Successful Successions: Executive Transitions That Worked
Succession from one generation of leadership to the next is a period of both great opportunity and great risk for associations. Ted Ford Webb, a principal at a nonprofit executive search firm in Massachusetts, writes that there are four essential ingredients for making the most out of this process: common sense, active listening, frank dialogue that invites all views within the board of directors and from other key players, and a comprehensive analysis of what an association's needs are moving forward.

Despite these efforts, critical needs can be in plain sight and still go unnoticed, eventually undermining the association's overall strategic vision. This is because boards sometimes accept or implicitly agree to work around fundamental tensions and difficulties, but do not really deal with them. The author provides examples of these unspoken challenges, drawing on his experience recruiting chief executives for three different organizations and their successors years later. In each case, the board members were able to establish a common understanding of the challenges they would face together before hiring the new CEO. Those foundations paid dividends in the performance of the organization.

A chief executive transition can, at its best, create an opportunity for a giant leap forward in terms of organizational change and evolution. However, it is not uncommon for these transitions to unearth both challenges within the board and strategic vision of the organization. It is important to acknowledge these challenges and insist they be dealt with openly during the succession process. According to the author, “the universal truth that runs through these transitions is the tremendous value of honesty. No candidate, no board, no organization is without challenges and limitations.”
Nonprofit Quarterly (04/22/14) Webb, Ted Ford
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