How to Talk About Succession Planning Without Causing Anxiety

I have never seen nonprofit executives and board members react with such discomfort as when someone mentions “succession.” There are usually awkward half-laughs, glances around the room to see how others are reacting, and then, a sense of liberation – finally, someone has mentioned the dreaded topic. The chief executive is concerned that mentioning succession will make the board think she/he is thinking about leaving. The board is concerned that it will send an unintended message to the chief executive that she/he should be thinking about moving on. If a founder is involved, let’s face it, the level of uneasiness skyrockets.

Are You Leading your Nonprofit with Courage?

Leading a nonprofit is hard work. Internal and external issues arise that demand attention, and the solutions may not be easy. When issues go unattended, they may become so significant that they potentially endanger the organization in some way. But this doesn’t need to be the case. With a strong leadership and skillful use of board meeting agendas, nonprofit executives and their boards can have the important conversations so they may be proactive and responsive and not caught off guard.

Old Year New Year: Permission to Dream

What is the best approach to the end of one year and the beginning of the next? Is it to continue carrying with us the weight of 2017? Or is it to enter 2018 unburdened and hopeful?

Sometimes when working on a strategic planning project with a client, they have difficulty keeping their eyes on the future. While all that has led up to strategic planning is formative, depending on the situation, it can serve to propel the organization forward, or it can impede its movement.

Why It’s Important to Pause

Earlier this fall, an executive coaching client introduced me to the following quote by Existential psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl, which continues to resonate in my mind:

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

I can’t get it out of my head! It is relevant and important every day, for all of us. It helps us think before we speak. It keeps us from reacting in habitual ways. It affords us opportunity to shape our lives, to do our finest work, to tackle seemingly insurmountable obstacles, to continually strive to be our best selves. It signifies our maturity.

It is in the pause that I have the privilege of working with my clients – the engagements related to strategic planning, executive leadership transitions, board development, or other organizational development issues are often set off by some stimulus. In the case of strategic planning, it may be as routine as the conclusion of a prior plan or as exciting as charting the course for significant organizational growth. The departure of a nonprofit CEO or retirement of a founder sparks an organization into transition mode and the need to seek new leadership. A nonprofit whose programs and management have matured more quickly than its governance model may inspire a board development project.

When prompted by any of these stimuli and myriad others, nonprofit leaders need to respond. The hope is that before responding, they take advantage of the space that lies before them. Too often, when facing these triggers, an organization’s leaders may be inclined to plow through, perhaps because they work in such high-tempo environments. When leaders respond without taking advantage of the space, there is the likelihood of overlooking or missing the potential or opportunity.  But when they seize the space between stimulus and response, not only do they find growth and freedom, they can become exceptional leaders.

Why Aren’t You Talking to Each Other?

Nonprofit chief executives and their board members do not simply wake up one morning with the following revelations:

  • The demographics of the area they serve have changed;
  • Funding for a signature program is at risk; or
  • High staff turnover is a dangerous threat to service delivery.

Yet, nonprofit leaders confront these realities often. When I read a story or hear about a nonprofit in extremis, I wonder if the leadership has been asleep at the wheel. Did no one see the signs? Why did they not point these things out to each other? What were they (or were they not) talking about at board meetings?

Resolve: The Will to Lead

It was not necessarily my intention to mine any further the situation put forth in my August 2016 blog post, Executive Transition: Cautionary Tale #1 – Settling for Less. I had a completely different topic in mind for the December blog post. However, it turns out that the last lines of the August post are haunting me now.