Leadership transition takes most nonprofits by surprise. It shouldn't. Except in cases of sudden death, Boards should have a reasonable idea when the current Executive Director will move on...or a growing sense that it time to move the Director along.
But even advanced awareness, the process is difficult. Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, has a great take on why succession planning is job #1 for any Board.
I was on a Board once where we agreed is was time to move the Executive Director out. The failure is that we first got the Director to resign and then began to work on a successor. The result? A bad pick who was out the door in 9 months followed by an Executive Director who lasted 18 months.
It was then that a fellow board member took leadership and guided the rest of us thru a process of selecting a solid, competent CEO. But just as importantly, he also had us put into place a succession planning process for identifying and developing latent talent within the organization. We combined several program manager positions to create a COO position who is being groomed to one day take over the operation.
A good lesson, albeit an expensive one. We believe we lost 5 years of growth because of the original error of not having a plan in place.