Executive Director Succession Planning: Preparing the Way for Leadership Transitions

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Leadership transitions are a fact of life for nonprofit organizations, but boards, staffs, and executive directors often approach them with trepidation—if not all-out avoidance. As the media arts field matures, some of our most experienced staff leaders are nearing retirement age, and a new generation of staff leaders is emerging. Succession planning is a tool that can help develop new staff leaders, ease the departure of long-term executive directors, and strengthen our organizations.

Final thoughts

Much has been written about the coming generational shift in nonprofit organizations, as Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) eventually leave the organizations they founded in the 1960s and ’70s. As leadership succession planning becomes more accepted as an organizational best practice, those of us involved in nonprofit organizations today will do well to remember that the organizational leaders of tomorrow (and the organizations of tomorrow) will operate much differently. A recent study of Boomer and GenX leaders (born between 1965 and 1979) gives us some clues about what to expect. According to Up Next: Generation Change and the Leadership of Nonprofit Organizations, staff leaders of both generations have much in common in their commitment to making a positive difference in the world, but younger staff leaders have a keener interest in work-life balance (making more time for family and friends) and participatory decision-making (making our nonprofit organizations less hierarchical and more democratic). The media arts field already boasts many smart, young staff leaders working in well-established and new organizations. As part of succession planning, leaders of all generations will be well served by celebrating the legacies of long-term leaders and embracing the fresh perspectives of younger leaders.

 


PAULA MANLEY is co-director of The Learning Commons, NAMAC’s partner in the Media Arts Leadership Institute (MALI). Last year she was part of the team that designed and implemented the Neighborhood Partnership Fund Succession Planning Project for community development corporations in Oregon.


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