Staying the Course When the Legendary Leader Retires


4 Steps Organizations Should Consider Following their Leader’s Retirement

business presentationTwenty years after creating what is now a $10 million environmental advocacy group, the founding director has chosen to retire. As the driving force, the Director’s energy and foresightedness have been the primary face of this nonprofit organization as it lobbied to protect local public areas and encourage sustainable community programs. Employees and volunteers have come and gone during those years, but the leader steadfastly remained at the forefront.

Organizations, whether for-profit or nonprofit, are frequently faced with this dilemma. How can the organization replace a charismatic founder-entrepreneur and still maintain growth? What type of leader is required for this new phase? If possible, the search should begin at least six months prior to the official date of retirement.

Step 1: Establish a Search Committee

The Board of Directors should establish a search committee comprised of key individuals who are very familiar with the needs of the organization. The first meeting of the Search Committee should involve a review of the status of the institution and brainstorming the type of executive that would best fit the projected development of the organization. At times, the enthusiasm and talents of a founder-leader can carry the mission to a certain level, but these may not be sufficient to boost the organization to the next level. A different skill set may be sought for the new hire.

The Committee should formalize a job description and create a profile of the preferred style, expertise, education and experience of prospective candidates. Here again, the job description may differ from the “hands-on” approach of the founder, so the skills of the target candidates might be considerably different.

Step 2: Hire an Executive Search Firm that Specializes in Nonprofits

The search committee should locate an executive search firm that has a wide network of contacts and successful experience in placing qualified candidates in appropriate positions. Beginning with a discussion of the organization’s objectives, needs, philosophies and culture, plus an overview of the founder’s legacy, the search firm representative can help to fine tune the search objectives. Through the search firm’s existing network and proven recruiting tools, the process of identifying a roster of potential candidates can be streamlined and many of the complexities may be short-circuited.

Step 3: Honor Thy Founder

If the transition is to be a smooth one, the Board of Directors should prepare the way. The best approach is to show commitment to the founding leader that the core philosophies and individual legacy will remain in place after the retirement. The organization should sincerely and publicly recognize the founder’s contributions, an act that should ensure his/her complete cooperation in the transition.

Step 4: A New Beginning

Once a candidate is hired, a transition period will occur during which the new Director becomes oriented to the position and has a chance to meet the staff and review existing projects, sources of income, and future objectives to begin to create a new action plan. During this time, the new hire will meet with key members of the community to ensure the continuation of successful projects and derive input for new ones. Meetings with the retiring founder may be frequent at first as historic input is downloaded.

After a month or so, the essential pieces of the transition should be nearly complete. The presence of the new leader is apparent and the organization should be re-energized to move ahead.

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Aside from the 4 steps above, what else should your organization do when your legendary leader retires? Share your initial thoughts in the comments below!


Tagged With: Executive Search

Susan Paley Zak

In her position as Director of Executive Recruiting at Dise & Company since 2004, Susan Paley Zak leverages her broad network of contacts in business, professional and nonprofit communities to help clients find the right talent for their organizations. Throughout her successful career in the human resources Susan’s signature accomplishment has been to bring an entrepreneurial zeal to whatever she touches.