What To Do When Your Leader Walks

Experiencing the departure of a high-performing leader can be unsettling and disruptive. However, it presents an opportunity rather than a catastrophe. To navigate this transition successfully, we have identified four strategies for leading through change at the top.

  1. Active Listening, Reflection, and Communication. As a leader, it is crucial to approach this period of transition with an open mind. Reflect on your own perceptions and experiences, but also seek insights from internal and external stakeholders who have interacted with the departing leader. Engage with board members, colleagues, staff, and donors to gain a comprehensive understanding of the position’s evolution and the qualities important for a new leader. This knowledge will not only help you select the right candidate but also foster buy-in and acceptance among those who will interact with the new leader.
  2. Engage the Outgoing Leader. The departing leader possesses valuable information that can inform your decision-making for the next hire. Prior to their departure, request an informal list of their responsibilities, including daily, weekly, and monthly tasks. Beyond the core functions, explore the team dynamics, behaviours that drive success, and potential challenges. This insight will enable you to design the position to meet organisational needs and identify candidates with the necessary skill sets and personality traits. While you cannot replicate the outgoing leader, you can identify behaviours and processes that have contributed to their success.
  3. Embrace a Forward-Thinking Approach. While change can be difficult, it is essential to look ahead. Consider what success means for your organisation in the present and future. Envision the accomplishments, goals, and celebrations you anticipate in the next two to three years. Identify the skills, background, and qualities that will propel your organisation towards these objectives. Look for individuals who will bring a strong cultural fit and consider how the position may evolve in the next three to five years. Assess candidates’ agility and resilience to adapt to changing times, and frame conversations to gauge their ability to lead teams through growth or transformation.
  4. Solidify Stakeholder Buy-In. Once you have gathered feedback and developed an initial plan, circle back with the stakeholders involved in the process. Communicate the high-level plan and timeline, providing transparency and building trust among those affected by the transition. This is an opportunity to gain stakeholder buy-in, ensuring a smooth transition and finalising the selection of the best candidate.

Lastly, be prepared to act swiftly. While there is a pool of talented leaders seeking new opportunities, the market is competitive. Moving efficiently and making timely decisions are crucial in this fast-paced environment.

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