Leadership Transition: How to Create Opportunity During THE Most Critical Stage

Leadership transitions create significant risk.

Decreased revenue (both earned and contributed), loss of organizational confidence and momentum, reduced staff engagement and even resignations, are all potential outcomes that organizations face when navigating a change in leadership.

While there are excellent resources available for all stakeholders, including succession planning consultants, search firms and recruiters, and Interim Managers (whether appointed from within, or externally sourced), NONE of these resources guarantee you a smooth and successful transition.

Over the past 13 years, I’ve had the opportunity to lead non-profits through transition as a professional Interim Executive Director/CEO, and as a leadership strategist and coach to Board Presidents, outgoing leaders, Interim leaders, and staff.

I’ve observed patterns, created and tested strategies to move organizations in transition forward and I’ve come to understand that while every scenario and organization certainly has unique circumstances, there are common dynamics that can be anticipated and addressed to ensure a smooth and successful transition.

My experience shows that all of the following are possible during a transition or “interim” period:

  • Increased board engagement, confidence, excitement and effectiveness
  • Increased staff engagement, leadership, creativity, and buy-in
  • Increased Individual donations/contributed revenue
  • Stronger image and visibility within the community

And, because of these possibilities, the “right” search candidates are even more likely to be attracted to the organization due to the “buzz” that’s been created from effectively managing the transition.

While Leadership Transition is a multi-faceted topic, in this article, I focus on the key moment that often comes and goes without recognition or strategy, because t’s in this moment, that organizations either set themselves up for success, or lose momentum and fall into a downward spiral. And, it’s in this moment where I can often provide the most impact to an organization.

Before I share strategies for that moment, let’s first define the VERY DISTINCT STAGES of leadership transition!

What do you think of when thinking of your upcoming transition?

✓ (PREP) We should have a Succession Plan in place

(ANNOUNCE) We’ll need to let people know

(SEARCH) We’ll need to determine how and when to launch a SEARCH

(HIRE) And we’ll make a HIRE…and be done!

 

BUT WAIT: THERE’S MORE!

I invite you to consider these additional stages:

✓ (INTERIM PERIOD) To maximize the opportunity, and minimize some of the risks discussed above, it’s absolutely essential to create a robust plan for the INTERIM PERIOD as part of your strategy to boldly advance your organization during transition. More than simply “handling the day-to-day operations,” this period is ripe with unprecedented opportunities for increased momentum, engagement and revenue generation.

✓ (AFTER THE HIRE) To ensure the highest possible ROI on your new hire, you must take actions to ensure he/she will hit the ground running, is strongly positioned, and ruthlessly supported. In some cases, especially when following a Founder or long-time leader, the transition can take years.

Each one of the stages has specificdynamics that can exist as you, and your internal and external stakeholders respond differently to change and transition.

However, THE most critical time of any leadership transition it is often the moment between when the transition is first known/conveyed to the Board President and when the first Press Release is issued.

This is the time when you need the most objective and experienced transition support!

WHY? (In a nutshell)

This is the moment when the leadership paradigm shifts from the outgoing leader, to the Board needing to be in the driver’s seat. This is significant, because having the board take charge often appears to be at odds with normal “best practices” and must be done with care, nuance, and with a sound strategy

Top Priorities for the Board

  • A Transition Leadership Team must be assembled, with clearly defined transition roles and responsibilities between the outgoing leader (if that is your scenario) and others.
  • Decision-making protocols must be clarified to keep the organization moving forward and delivering on its mission.
  • Frequent, transparent and strategic communications are key during transition. Closed door meetings, negotiations with legal ramifications, while leadership aims to sort things out will occur. The desire to “wait” on making key announcements or communicating until all is figured out must be addressed.
  • It’s important to remember that Leadership Transitions are part of doing business! Your normal feelings of shame, embarrassment, sadness, even victimhood must be shifted by bringing stakeholders into the journey of transition by thinking of their needs.
  • Stakeholder emotions and other dynamics in this stage will need to be anticipated and addressed effectively:
  • Board members may be anxious, worried, concerned, frustrated, overwhelmed – or they may feel more connected and needed than ever before.
  • Staff who are aware of the transition will experience feelings ranging from anger and abandonment to relief and excitement.
  • Staff who aren’t aware of the transition will likely sense something is going on, and emotions may range from anxiety to disconnectedness; each with unique behaviors and reactions.
  • What about your donors? Ticket buyers? Community partners? Vendors? What do they need to hear? And what do you want them to know about your organization? and THAT question leads to this next point:

While this time does need to be fast-paced, it’s also critical to take a moment to pause, regroup, assess, and go on the offensive – rather than only reacting to deadlines imposed by outside forces. (This may feel very hard to do!)

  • Take the time to bring your team together to think about the future of your organization. Inspire your team to be working towards something, rather than having the leader’s departure dominate the narrative. (Of course, you’re not going to have the time before the Press Release is sent out to do a Strategic Planning process, but make the time to have some deep discussions!)
  • Consider these questions with your team: What does this transition mean for us? What new opportunities will now be possible for increased impact in the community? Why? What is the organization aiming to do and BE in our Next Chapter?
  • I’ve worked with many search committees and often hear “we want a visionary leader” (with the implication that that new person will set the Vision), but WHAT IF the Board and Staff took a minute to figure out what YOU envision? What if you based this vision on the community that you know, on your successes and strengths, and on your clear idea of what you want in terms of impact – for the next 6 months, 12 months, 3 years? Once you’ve established your priorities and prepared, THEN finally it’s time to:
  • Draft an Integrated Transition Timeline, addressing both transitional and operational needs. This will include the creation and implementation of an internal and external communications strategy and will roll-out based upon all you know from the above points.
  • Create an Interim Plan that will ready the organization for the next leader’s arrival. Ready-ness can range from filling staff vacancies, overhauling budgeting and tracking processes, to launching fundraising campaigns, to creating a turnaround; eliminating years of debt and building up reserves.
  • Launch a Search to find the person that has the skills to help you achieve your organization’s vision.

And the “kicker?”

Ideally, ALL this will occur prior to the Press Release going out (and the Press Release should go out as soon as possible, before rumors or leaks occur!)

BOTTOM LINE:

Leading your organization through a transition requires much more than launching the Search – and can go well beyond the hire.

There are distinct stages and related dynamics that you can anticipate and successfully address every step of the way.

However, THE most critical time of any leadership transition is often the moment before the announcements are made when the Board takes charge and must quickly establish transition leadership and powerful messaging that will ensure a smooth and successful transition.

Your Board, staff and community are counting on you!

To learn more about how I work with organizations in transition, or to schedule a confidential conversation with me about YOUR transition, I invite you to take a look at my website HERE.  I’ll learn more about your specific scenario and help you uncover your best next strategic moves.

Top 5 Reasons Every Successful Leader Needs a Crossroads Coach

A Coach by Your Side is Powerful

We all want to maximize our potential. To hone our skills and strengths, to gain the experience and network to build upon, to have value and be compensated accordingly, to be healthy and strong, to be successful.  For many, deeper goals also resonate: to be helpful, to make a difference, to be kind, to be fully present, to feel joy.  

And throughout our lives, we do!

However, there are also moments when we can get in our own way. 

We procrastinate, we resist looking inward, we make decisions about ourselves by comparing ourselves to what we believe we see in others, and based on what others say is and is not possible. 

We get stuck. Sometimes we realize why, most of the time we don’t.

It’s normal.

No matter the profession, you know high impact performers utilize coaches strategically. Successful athletes, corporate leaders, all seek different coaches to create supportive strategies and practices to keep them at their best and breaking through plateaus of success, at different moments of their trajectory.  We’ve heard the stories of how life coaches helped Serena, or Bill Gates, or Oprah breakthrough their limiting beliefs, build new strategies and see new possibilities.   

When you look in the mirror and think about what you (really) want, are you achieving it?  If not, do you think that you can do “it” on your own? Perhaps! But check-in with yourself, and see if you believe any of the THREE COMMON MYTHS people have about working with a coach. 

#1 Coaches are for leaders who are failing in some way.

#2 Coaches are for leaders who are more successful than you.

#3 You don’t have the time or the money for coaching.

 Does hiring a coach make sense for you at this moment?  It depends.

TRUTHS:

Right now, you’re in some sort of transition: in your career, your health, your relationships, your life. You may be experiencing exciting new success, or starting to feel like you’re just going through the motions month after month, or perhaps feeling like you’re stuck and without options. You may have initiated a change, or suddenly found yourself in a moment of change or needing to make an important decision. You may be experiencing new feelings of a “pulling” or wanting “more.”

Whatever that transition moment might be, it’s important to recognize the moment you’re in! Give it a name, create intention for it, recognize the common dynamics and attributes that can often exist in these scenarios, and then make informed decisions on what you want to do, how you want to BE, and why. 

If your transition moment feels BIG, like it’s more of a pivotal or crossroads you’ve got lots of options. This is your life we’re talking about, and shifting decision-making from what you “should” do, to making strategic decisions based upon your purpose isn’t always simple.

THIS is the moment to take a breath and go deep.  To make this crossroads moment, the moment you look back on and realize it was the moment you took charge and began curating your life of impact, meaning, joy and success. 

Why should we all care about you being happy and successful?

Because when you are doing that special thing that you do, in the unique way you do it (no matter what your role), when you feel energized and joyful and at the “top of your game,” you create ripples of impact that make a difference; in one person’s life, in a business, a community, the world. 

Think about it, you know this is true when you think about the people who have made a difference in your life.  It is also true for you.

Therefore, in order for the world to be an extraordinary place, we need you to be consistently living in your purpose (with financial, healthful and emotional sustainability). We need you to have everything you need (internally and externally) to do and be your best self.

Making sure you are being your best self is not a selfish act. Identifying and creating the causes and conditions you need to do and Be that, at different moments in your life, is key. And, it’s almost impossible to do on your own.

I’VE BEEN IN YOUR SHOES. MY CLIENTS HAVE ALL BEEN IN YOUR SHOES.

I loved all my jobs. I learned from wonderful mentors and leaders who taught me by embodying leadership qualities I admired and also those I didn’t. Over the years I was fortunate to have had great colleagues, interesting work, and I was successful and happy..

Until I felt a “pulling.” 

I knew I wanted to make a big change – both in my professional and personal life. I knew it, and I noticed that I kept thinking about a change, running the scenarios in my head, and not taking action!  In 2015, I worked with my first business coach to support me in creating the strategy to transition from being Vice President of a national arts consulting firm where I was at the top of my game, and figure out what and how to launch my own business and take my “leap” into entrepreneurship. I joined a mastermind for additional accountability, gaining internal insights and breakthroughs. Later, I worked with a mindfulness coach to challenge some of my limiting beliefs I sensed were getting in my way. 

Looking back, I simply could not have done it alone. 

As I continue to move into new “chapters” of my business and life, I continue to invest strategically in experts who can support me at each of my crossroads moments.

Here’s what I believe are the Top 5 Reasons everyone needs a Crossroads Coach – EVEN if you’re already a Superhero!:

1.  X-ray vision doesn’t work… on ourselves!  Have you noticed how you’re able to look at someone and see “behind” the surface and realize their anger is really fear, or their need for structure is really lack of confidence?  Or that when they’re stuck or overwhelmed you know exactly how to help them? Yes. You’re able to see the challenges and limiting beliefs in others.  But it’s almost impossible to use that ability on ourselves. Do you know how many times you say “ummm…?”  I don’t think so!

No matter how smart we are, it’s easy to miss key indicators that reveal our next steps and how to achieve them. Even when we know what we “should” do, there can be pesky voices in our head that show up to question and inadvertently self-sabotage taking the very actions that will propel us forward. We think strategically about many aspects of our business – and then we put blinders on when assessing our own leadership and support.

An objective and experienced guide is often the only way for us to identify what’s holding us back and figure out what to do about it. Even if we get perfectly sound advice, but get it from the wrong person or even the right person in the wrong context, we can often dismiss it as a biased opinion. But put yourself in a situation where you know you are safe, seen and respected, where you’ve invested at a level that ensures your full commitment, with the confidence in knowing that the proven process has helped many before you, and breakthroughs happen.

 

2.  Your reality may not be what it appears to be! What you believe to be “facts” are often limiting beliefs and simply not true, or relevant to your situation. They can hide as best practices, data and expert advice. 

Do you believe you should stay in your job for at least 3 years, or risk having a red flag in job searches?  I’ve had clients that were staying in a dismal situation out of that fear. Instead, we quickly created a transition plan along with strategic messaging in the context of a career of impact, making it possible to make an immediate change and secure a dream job.  

Are you assuming your CEO doesn’t value you because she hasn’t responded to an idea you had?  I helped a client realize that in reality, he had never actually made a specific proposal or recommendation, asked for a response, or even talked with the CEO in person.  It turned out the CEO had received the email, found it interesting, and put it aside to discuss it at a less busy time. The reality he had created, and all the resulting feelings and behaviors that came from feeling undervalued, were keeping him in a familiar pattern of being stuck and unhappy. 

A forward-thinking guide with the professional experience and intuition to know what actually is possible, is crucial to helping us test our assumptions. It can be tricky, with internal and external minefields along the way, hiding as “facts.”  Instead, going through a proven process of discovery helps reveal the evidence needed to reveal a clear path forward – in new possibilities, impact and success.   

 

 3.  When we’re already hurting ourselves, who needs a “villain”?! Warning: you may be carrying Kryptonite around in your OWN pocket!  You have big plans, you’re doing all the right things (see #2) and you’re probably considered successful. Then “all of a sudden” you may be noticing that you’re burnt out, don’t have work-life balance and your health or relationships are suffering. You are at risk of becoming disillusioned with the cause you are championing and you notice you may be plateauing professionally. 

When I speak with leaders who are beginning to look for a way out, the focus is often on what external forces are causing the suffering (a dysfunctional board, a challenging boss, colleagues that don’t share the same work ethic they do, and more!), and they want to get away from that.  

But the truth is, and you know this, there are internal patterns that keep repeating and following us from situation to situation.  Different scenarios, same issues. The common denominator? You know!

A caring advocate challenges us to look inward to find the leadership patterns that are no longer serving us, and then help us make choices and learn new strategies to shift our current situation – and, if we decide to transition, to ensure those same issues we are fleeing from don’t find there way to us in our new chapter.  

 

4.  A desire to be like other successful leaders can… “work.”  But you don’t really want to be a part of a Clone Army! For much of our careers, many of us followed industry norms of what being professional looks like (See #2).  

We’re taught how to look and sound exactly like everyone else; in our resumes, applications, interviews, “uniforms” and language. We expect recruiters and decision-makers to make choices based upon our skills and experience rather than the unique way we solve problems, or make people feel empowered, or all our other unique characteristics we bring when living in our purpose. 

And then, we enviably wonder why others seem to have successfully branded themselves as an industry leader, be in demand, be known for something that matters.

You are more than a Job Title!  You are more than the list of skills on your resume!  I used to have application materials on my desk, all from talented, experienced Executive Directors applying for a top position.  They were all qualified, they all “checked all the boxes.” And, they all looked the same. I would then do screening interviews. They all sounded the same; placing their value in the jobs they held, their responsibilities, size of the organization, etc.  I would then conduct in person interviews for the finalists. And, again… often they all sounded the same. I’m being a little dramatic, perhaps. I would ask questions that helped them reveal their uniqueness. But wow, we had to work hard.

An experienced guide who intuitively sees and helps you reveal your unique and true value, can help you create the positioning language and messaging strategies to differentiate yourself, increase your clarity and confidence, and negotiate salaries and fees in alignment with the impact you bring.

 

5.  You don’t have the key, foundational clarity on what you (really) want.  Without the right coordinates in the transporter, who knows where you might end up?! If you are defining success in terms of job titles, salary, areas of oversight, industry, or any other normal quality, your ability to actually find what will make you happy is… a crapshoot. 

I’ve met leaders who have worked hard for the next success, the next job title, and they got it… and 6 months in, they realize they’re not truly happy. Or their problems have followed them (see #3).  You accept fees and salaries that aren’t in line with your impact… and get frustrated that people don’t value you or know what you really do. You make it to the final candidate interviews… and don’t get the offer. 

When we don’t know what our true value and purpose is, and thus the integrated life of impact we are meant to lead, and when we don’t know what our “point B” truly is… there’s no possible way to achieve it.  

Think about that.  

You’re making decisions, choices, assumptions every day – without knowing whether or not they are creating the possibility for you to live in your Dream Career (Life!).

An experienced guide with a proven process reveals the information and insights about ourselves and our impact-informed trajectory, that are so often missing in decision-making, job searches, and Next Chapters.  They help connect us with our true value, understand the unique causes and conditions we need to thrive, leverage and monetize “it,” all so that we can have the life and success we envision.

 

BONUS: 

6.  You know you need to make a change… but don’t. I do understand. Making a change of any kind has consequences, and you may believe it will be disruptive and stressful.  You may be secretly be wishing Superman would fly in to rescue you. Or you feel like you’re being “practical” by continuously running the scenarios.  Or you don’t want to let anyone down, so you’re staying until the right time. Or you believe you need more education/skills/savings/expertise/fill-in-the-blank before you should make a change. Or perhaps, your hesitancy is actually excellent instincts that a change is NOT the right decision for you at this time.  But how do you know it’s not Reasons #2 or #3? 

We make incorrect assumptions that to take a leap requires things we don’t have, yet. That we must first do or be something “more.” 

It’s been interesting that almost all of my coaching clients initially said they didn’t have the time, money or experience right now to make a leap into their purpose.  It’s what I initially said to my first coach!  We have bills to pay, people to support, family priorities that we put first. But often there is also a sneaky voice buried in that “reality.”  A belief that you thriving is selfish or somehow a luxury. Not as important as all the other financial and time obligations.  

But take a minute to really hear what you’re saying to yourself.

You’ve determined it’s time for some kind of a change. And yet, you’re going to wait.

And life goes by. Opportunities pass. 

Stop it! Feeling joy is a litmus test for having the impact on others you are meant to have (your purpose).  People are counting on you to be living your dream career and life. 

A fiercely supportive guide holds the vision for you until you can see and hold it for yourself. They show you in concrete terms that you are enough. That you have nothing more to prove, only to learn.  They create the possibility for breakthroughs and transformational shifts to help you move forward in both vulnerability and new-found confidence.

In Conclusion

Your vision for purposeful and sustainable success that initially may seem “crazy” or not “realistic” can be created – with an experienced guide by your side who understands the predictable internal and external dynamics of transition, the ins and outs of overcoming daily leadership challenges, the intuition to see your blind spots, an innate ability to help create authentic positioning and specific strategies to use in day-to-day leadership scenarios, and has a proven process and methodology to how to catapult you into a new chapter.

Coaching supports you in transforming your life.

To your success, 

Kathryn

 

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