The Leadership in Leaving…. In the month of January, I hosted a 3-part webinar series on succession planning and leadership transition for nonprofit organizations. This quote from the Building Movement Project puts in perspective why being intentional about leadership transition is critical for the greater community. “The decision to leave a long-term job is not simply a personal or private choice. For social sector leaders, it also is an act of leadership…How and when a leader exits reverberates throughout the organization and often reaches deep into the community and the field.” In the first 20 years of my career, I held five different executive director positions and none of the organizations had a formal succession plan. One organization hired a new executive director before my departure, so I was able to train my successor for two weeks. Another organization hired an interim executive director that was familiar with the organization. The other organizations leaned on current staff and board members to keep the organization going during the transition process. None of these scenarios set the organizations on a course for a smooth transition. As I continued in my career, I served as a board member for two different organizations that transitioned long-term leaders. As a consultant, I facilitated the search and transition process for an organization led by a founder. In addition, Vista Global partnered with another national consulting firm to write an eBook, Proactively Plan for the Inevitable: A Guide to Leadership Transition and Succession. Through all these experiences, I learned a lot about what contributes to successful leadership transitions. Six tips to build a strong organization that can thrive through leadership transition: Assess the organization’s readiness: Do you have a current strategic plan? Are you doing annual evaluations of the executive director and staff? Are you investing in staff development? Are your financial systems up to date and are there financial reserves? Do you have an emergency succession plan? Creating stability in the organization’s infrastructure is essential to navigate transitions successfully. Assess your personal readiness to leave: What level of excitement do you have for your work? Are you more interested in initiatives other than running the organization? Are tensions increasing with the board? Can you conceive a career move? These all may be signs it is time to depart. Determine what type of transition you are preparing for: Is this transition following a founder, or maintaining sustained success, or an underperforming organization or a turnaround? All require different focuses by the board. Build the leadership capacity within the organization: Organizations that have staff with professional development plans, strengthening their skills and competencies have greater success in navigating transition. How much are you investing in staff development financially and through mentorship and development planning? Provide ample time for the process and a roadmap: Transitions always take more time than you think. In addition, the board (as volunteers) has to manage many different aspects of the transition. The more time you can allow, the smoother the process will be for the incoming leader, outgoing leader, staff and board. Develop a strong board chair-incoming leader relationship: A strong board is a critical component to a successful transition. An incoming leader will rely on the board to understand their role and expectations in the first 90 days of tenure. Establishing a strong relationship between the board chair and incoming leader accelerates the incoming leader’s ability to come up to speed quickly to move the organization forward. Transitions of long-term leaders can include additional aspects of disruption related to the organizational identity and practices associated with the outgoing leader. Coaching for the outgoing leader, incoming leader and or board chair can offer important support to navigate the transition between what was and what will be. As an executive director, it can be a lonely place, particularly if you are contemplating departure. I know, I have been there. If you need a compassionate ear or a few tools to get going, I am here from you. The greatest gift you can give yourself, your organization and your mission is to strengthen your organization before leaving.