What founders can do to make it easier for their successor

By Gilles Mesrobian, Senior Fellow, Support Center

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Leadership transition is challenging but the transition from a founding Executive Director to a new Executive Director is perhaps the most vulnerable point in the evolution of an organization.  Studies show that 50% of searches fail in these situations.

I was a founding director myself and there are clearly things that a founding ED can do to lay the groundwork for a successful transition.

Perhaps the first step is helping the organization address succession planning before you leave–even before you know you want to leave. Succession planning should be in place for all organizations. One never knows when a medical crisis or family emergency could take you away from your job for a short term, long term, or permanently.

Once you know you are going to leave, planning a proper departure will help the organization prepare for the challenges ahead.

Identifying your exit strategy is critical and communicating it to all parties in a manner that is positive and constructive for the organization is important.

A parting ED can also help the Board or Search Committee understand the skill set needed in the new ED.  Remember that the search process is not about replacing you, but rather about finding someone who can lead the organization to the next step in its evolution. You can help the Board understand what that means.

Being prepared to move on in your career is also critical so that you don’t feel the need or desire to fall back on your prior commitment to the organization you founded.

Setting healthy boundaries for you and the organization, staff, Board and new ED is important. You need to strike a healthy balance so that you can be relied upon for information and assistance when called upon without meddling in the organization.

Any role you play moving forward will not be as the ED but as an experienced professional who understands the unique challenges of the organization, perhaps better than anyone.  Nothing will sour your relationship with the organization more than meddling or getting involved in the day-to-day management or politics of your past employer.

And finally, a little soul searching is needed.  Accept the fact that your commitment to the organization and your career are changing as you depart. Both you and the organization you founded are moving on to new things. Embrace the opportunity for change and what it promises.

>>> Emergency Succession Planning for Arts Organizations

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