Thinking Long Term

on in Nonprofit

It’s August. Time slows down, people go out of town, and those of us left around may actually have time on our hands.

So that’s the time to think big picture, figure out what’s in the way, and develop a skeleton plan to move forward through those shoals.

In that vein, we’ve been talking about succession with a couple of groups these days – board chairs planning a year or two ahead, executive directors looking at retirement (or second careers), development directors thinking about how to leave the nest in good shape to take on the next challenge.


All of these require lifting your head up beyond the day-to-day to think about how to arrange the bricks you’re going to leave behind, so that the next generation can proceed from a strong foundation to build the next castle.

Or something to that effect.

Sometimes board-building is best done by starting in the present and building out. But when you’re looking at leadership succession, sometimes you have to look outside, at the likely institutional challenges 5+ years down the road, and relationship-build your way to the board leadership that will best get you there.

We see a lot of groups that lament that they just don’t see the next generation of board leaders on the current board. There are two possibilities when that’s the refrain:

It’s actually there, but the current leadership is so charismatic that potential new leaders don’t quite sense the space to assert themselves in. In that case the answer is to give a potential leader a stand-alone assignment, get out of the way, and see how they do.

It’s not there, in which case new board members may have to be recruited who are potential board leaders – and several of them – so if one or two turn out to be not suited for the job you’re not back at level zero again in another year.

Likewise, if the top staff leadership is thinking about leaving at some point in the next couple of years, the board’s job is to make sure it’s a strong enough body – with the right skills, talents, energy and equanimity – to take on the challenge of searching for, replacing, and breaking in a new person in that all-important position.

In any case, to come back to the theme we started with – August is a time to think, big-picture, about where the leadership of your organization is at, is going, and is positioned. And to make a plan to move all of those to the next level.

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