Posts Tagged ‘Founders transitions’

Relay-race_02If you had asked me five years ago, who I thought would succeed us as the LST Executive Director, I would have had a name and all the reasons why my choice was the only choice!  Privately, I would tell board members, lobbying in a preemptive way to ensure that my choice was their choice.

But I had made a big mistake.  My big mistake was that my One-and-Only-Possible-Choice absolutely did not want to do the job!

I’ve thought a lot about my flawed choice and have decided that asking the current Executive Director to find his/her own successor is not a very good idea. If the ED is a founding director, it may be even worse, and certainly more problematic.

First, why should not the Founding director name his/her own successor?  After all, who would know better about what skill sets or gifts are needed than the Founder?  Allow me to answer this rhetorical question with several more:

  • Can Founders choose someone different in skill sets from themselves?
  • Can they be objective enough to bring in someone who has the gifts that they themselves did not have?
  • Can they see beyond their own circle of relatives/acquaintances/associates to evaluate fairly someone who has not been intimately associated with the organization?
  • And what does it do to their legacy, if their chosen successor does not prove to be a good choice—so does that risk push Founders to safe choices rather than best choices?
  • What if the Founder consciously or unconsciously still wants to control the organization?  Isn’t this almost a predictable tension at a time of transition?  Would that tend to lead toward a choice of someone who can be controlled or overly influenced by the Founder?

These questions are hard for Founders to answer—which is why I would encourage you to opt for strong board involvement in choosing a successor!

What if the board does not want to be involved, but prefers that the Founder/Executive Director do the selection?   Then you have the wrong board!  Regardless of who started has led it for years, the board of directors has the responsibility for the sustainability of the organization.

Your board should lead in choosing the successor for a Founder/Executive Director for the following reasons:

  • The members of the board are legally responsible for the actions of Executive Director.
  • A multi-member board has the advantage of diverse input, out-of-the-box thinking, regional perspectives, and often even generational insights, all of which should engender better candidates.
  • Board members, by the fact of sheer number, have wider circles than a single Founder. If the board searches among their acquaintances, a larger number of good prospects is more likely.
  • A public announcement of an open position by the Board of Directors gives the organization more legitimacy than an appeal by a Founder/Executive Director.  It also makes the process seem more objective.
  • The Board of Directors is almost always the employer of the Executive Director, so giving the Board the responsibility for selection of the new ED builds an appropriate relationship between the employer and employee from the very beginning.  This is much different than if the new ED has been selected and “hired” by the outgoing Executive/Founder.

The LST board went through a bit of transition turmoil after Sherrylee and I gave notice of our retirement.  Let me start by saying that the main problem was not the board members themselves, but probably the constitution of the board at the time.  We were seven members; Sherrylee and I were two of those seven.  That left only five to work through the transition.  As it turned out, one of the board members was to becoming one of the declared candidates interested in the Executive Director’s position.  What we were left with after Sherrylee and I and this other board member recused ourselves was only four “objective” members.

We made the decision to divide into two working groups and to invite some of our non-board member supporters to join us in these work groups in order to expand the number of people in the process as well as to provide a wider perspective.  One work group was to search for the successor; the other work group was to manage the transition of the Founders (Sherrylee and me).  That seemed like a very productive arrangement, but actually things got off track pretty quickly.

I’ll explain what happened in the next post.



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Relay-race_02Many Founders can be found in the Bible. Maybe not the 501(c)(3) variety, but Founders they were, so there must be something to learn from them about Founders.

Adam founded the human race—but he couldn’t admit his mistakes, blaming others instead of admitting his own error. In addition, he failed to some degree to raise successors who were in a position to lead this newly founded group of people into a positive future.  Adam is not the one we want to imitate.

Noah re-founded the original human organization that Adam’s progeny had driven into total collapse. It took a massive shakeup, where everyone was washed out of the human organization except Noah and his family. Unfortunately, in forcing through this necessary but painful shutdown and restart, Noah suffered from PTSD and turned to alcohol.  No doubt Noah was a righteous man who courageously did very hard things, but he did not finish strong.  Let’s keep looking!

Abraham founded the nation of Israel. Interestingly enough, although he had the amazing promise and assurance of all the help he needed to launch this nation, he actually had two failed start-ups, one with his servant Eliezer, whom he thought might grow into his successor, but the Chairman of his board had chosen someone else and thought Abraham showed a lack of trust by inserting this personal choice into board-approved plan.

Then a second time, Abraham, listening to his wife, got impatient and decided to create his own succession plan using foreign resources.  He managed to generate his own nation that lasted a few years, but then fell apart. Again, he had acted on his own initiative, thinking he could change the agreed upon plan.  He was showing no confidence that his Biggest Supporter would really fulfill his pledge.  The result of taking things into his own hands has led to almost 4000 years of terror from which we still suffer.

We will continue this business metaphor, talking about David as the Founder of a royal dynasty, but while David himself was a person of great faith and courage, he was also carried away by his passions, which led to hideous crimes for which he paid with his horribly troubled family. His love child dies, his daughter is raped by her brother, another son murders his incestuous brother, and his most beloved son attempts to steal his throne. Because of David’s goodness, his Backer honored his promise to do whatever it took to continue the dynasty, but because of David’s flaws, He had to intervene over and over again. David’s dynasty lost 83% of the original holdings (10 of 12 tribes) and ultimately was left with just a remnant of the original company!

Finally we get to the Son of David, the Founder of Founders, who established his Church.  Here is a Founder to follow and emulate—finally.

Jesus spent thirty years getting ready to launch His church.  When the time came, He opened with an act of personal humility (his baptism), not starting with great fanfare or extravagance.  He had one clear message that he delivered to his audience: the Kingdom of God is at hand. He pursued his single goal relentlessly, not only in the face of blatant opposition, but also when his own followers totally misconstrued the mission statement He had delivered to them.  With patient compassion, He continued to lead and coach them even when they started in-fighting, looking for the seats of power in this new organization.

For three years, He led them by example, He mentored them, He planted visionary seeds of what would be after He was gone. Before the end of His tenure with them on earth, he started preparing them for His departure. He gave them assignments, He sent a Consultant to continue working with them. One of the most important things He did was prioritize for them their prime directives as representatives of this new organization; He taught them that relationships—especially how they worked together—would be how their potential customers would evaluate the organization.  He promised to leave everything they needed in order to continue the mission, and that even though He was leaving them physically, that He would always be with them.

As a Founder whose time it is to leave, I have searched and searched Scripture for a model for the transition we are experiencing. I have thought about Elijah passing his mantel to Elisha. Or Moses handing off the wandering Israelites to Joshua. Or Samuel guiding the transition from judges to a king over Israel.  But while these metaphors may be a little artificial, I find no better model of transition than Jesus, one who gave his whole life, laying it down for His friends. He prepared those who worked for him, he taught them all He could—even more than they could understand. He arranged extended help for them after He was gone. He weeded out those who had another mission; He mended relationships among his staff, not focusing on the weaknesses even the strongest of his people had shown. Instead He lifted them up and gave them hope.

He did not tell them the future, but inspired them to believe that they would accomplish the great mission they had begun together. He prayed for them, he addressed their doubts, and finally, he gave them specific instructions for what to do immediately after He left. And so they went out, and here we are two thousand years later—not without problems, but still following His vision, still members of His Church.

I have not been such a Founder—far, far from it. But if all of us Founders will do our best to transition as He did, our ministries, our charities, our missions will be better blessed. Of that I am sure.




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