At the Threshold of a Leadership Transition: What’s on the Other Side?

Consulting with nonprofits on strategic planning and organizational development, I’ve seen how succession planning has emerged as a very important task for the board and executive leadership. Succession planning involves developing talent within an organization to assume higher levels of responsibility, as well as identifying a plan for seamless continuity when the executive director/CEO leaves.

When an organization has a succession plan in place, stakeholders tend to feel confident that come what may, they will be prepared. In reality, however, when a nonprofit board of directors is faced with an executive leadership transition, they cross a threshold into uncharted territory.

A Case Against Playing Good Cop, Bad Cop with the Board

Bad news is a fact of life, including organizational life, and it can be difficult to deliver. There are times, for example, when budgets are tight and the staff needs to be cut, is asked to take voluntary furloughs, or must accept delayed paychecks. Or, services or hours of operation need to be cut back.

It can be tempting to blame these unpleasant decisions on the board, since the board may be a mysterious, unseen reality that staff rarely encounter.

But avoid this temptation. Don’t throw your board under the bus when you have to deliver bad or disappointing news to your staff. Own being the executive leader – the good and the not so good of it. Be honest. Your staff can take it and will respect you for it. So will your board.

When you blame a difficult decision on the board, you drive a wedge between the two constituencies that are vital to your organization’s success and, perhaps, to your own personal success. In some organizations, the staff and board don’t know each other very well. In your leadership role, you can foster mutual trust.