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.

Onboarding a New Nonprofit CEO – Tools and Activities

You have just hired a new senior executive. Congratulations! Now what?

When the search activities conclude, the transition continues and a well-planned onboarding process is critical. In the best scenario, a transition task force (which might be the search committee) will have contact with the new executive in the period from offer acceptance to first day on the job. Having a plan for this “in-between” time will make onboarding go more smoothly. It will also permit the transition task force to discuss onboarding with the new executive to learn what she/he would like included.

Onboarding a new nonprofit executive may seem daunting. Depending on the size and complexity of an organization, it may be. A nonprofit organization should always have a plan for orienting new staff. For a senior position, it would likely need to be enhanced to match the magnitude of the role. Thinking through the high-level expectations for the new executive leads to a sharp focus on the goals for onboarding and thus, the related tools and activities that are part of it.

Onboarding a New Nonprofit CEO

Welcome to Your (New) World!

It’s 7:00 p.m. on Saturday night. The doorbell rings. You open the door and greet your dinner guests. You say, “So glad to see you! The coat closet is over there (pointing). Make yourselves at home. Just go in the kitchen, I think there’s some wine and some food. You’re smart, I know you’ll figure it out and cook up something. I’m going to run upstairs and take a shower. Back soon.”

It’s difficult to imagine inviting guests over with such little forethought. What would Miss Manners say about this inhospitable “hello”?

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?

Executive Transition: How to Determine Who Your Next Leader Should Be

As the adage goes, the only constant in life is change. When a transition occurs at the top of any organization, it needs to be managed with good judgment and planning for the future success of the organization and all its stakeholders. In a nonprofit, it is the board’s role to handle this process.

Why Conduct a Needs Assessment?

Indeed, the stakes are high for a nonprofit board of directors charged with the responsibility of managing an executive leadership transition. Among the many questions that loom are:

  • What is the scope of the chief executive’s job?
  • What are the necessary skills the next chief executive must possess in order to lead the organization to its next level?
  • What are the personal qualities the next executive must possess in order to be a culture and values fit with the organization and a leader for the staff?
  • How do we prepare for a smooth transition for the new executive?
  • How do we lay the groundwork for staff support for the new chief executive?

New Year Surprises: Are You Ready to Manage Staff Transitions?

A new year often inspires life changes, big or small. Among these are the decision to pursue a new job or career. Because employees at all levels contribute to the fulfillment of your mission, nonprofit leaders need to be tuned into staffing transitions throughout the organization. How a nonprofit executive copes with staff transitions both draws from and contributes to the organizational culture. If handled well, a staff transition can boost an organization’s well-being and capacity, but if handled poorly, morale and service continuity can suffer.

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.

Executive Transition: Cautionary Tale #2 – Undermining the Transition Process

Last month I shared a cautionary tale about what can go wrong when an organization compromises in their choice of a new executive director due to search fatigue or poor preparation.

This month, I present a tale about what can happen in an executive transition when there is lackof good will among the board of directors and a lapse in honoring one’s role as a trustee of an organization.  

Often in the case with significant decisions, a board of directors will agree up front to emerge from its deliberations in unanimity. This desire to present a united face to staff and the public conveys a strong message and fosters further buy-in by other stakeholders. But what if someoneonly pays lip service to this and strays from the groupWhat if someone doesn’t put what is best for the organization first? In this scenario, an individual disrupts the organization by subverting the transition process.

Executive Transition: Cautionary Tale #1 – Settling for Less

This post is the first of two that discuss what can go wrong when hiring nonprofit executive.This month I’ll talk about what happens when a board of directors settles for less and the downside of fatigue with the process. Next month I’ll discuss what can happen when a board member undermines the transition process.

Hiring a nonprofit executive is too important to do with anything but the utmost of careEven with strong planning something can go wrong. That’s real life. What is truly unfortunate is when an executive transition is not successful when, with more attention to the process, it could have been.

Before I began consulting with nonprofits in 2004, I worked as an executive search consultant. Among the things I know from that experience are the importance of a detailed description of the ideal candidate for a position and the necessity for patience in the process. Organizations neglect these essentials at their peril.

In the following scenario, hiring a new executive was viewed as a chore. The hiring committee approached the search with a defeatist attitude rather than seeing it as a strategic action having long-term effect on the organization.

Happy Fiscal New Year – a New Beginning

The start of the fiscal year, even if not recognized with champagne and fireworks, often signals new beginnings. In the months and weeks leading up to July, there is often a burst of activity in nonprofit organizations. Nonprofit executives and their boards of directors create and ratify new budgets. Perhaps the governance or nominating committee puts forth a slate of new directors, and even officers stepping into leadership roles. In some years there will be a new board chair, in other years a board chair may be considering how to have an impact during the final year in office.

Here are some manageable and worthwhile fiscal New Year’s resolutions to support nonprofit executives and board chairs working together to foster a productive, collaborative year for leadership and for the organization.