Part 2: What if your new leader starts tomorrow?

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Are you prepared today to onboard tomorrow’s new leader?

Last week, we built a strong foundation for leadership onboarding as a long-term and ongoing, strategic initiative for all thriving nonprofits. We identified four, simple actions taken by courageous boards to prepare the path for their new leaders to succeed.

But, what if you’ve got a new CEO starting tomorrow and there’s no plan in place? Here are a few tips to help ensure a smooth transition as you onboard your new CEO:

Focus on alignment rather than activities. 

Ensure Mission Alignment by giving the new leader the latitude to act in alignment with the mission. Collaborate with the CEO to set benchmarks for both programs and operations that connect directly to impact and outcomes. One framework we use a lot is the “family of measures” that defines three kinds of performance metrics: mobilizing resources; staff effectiveness; and progress toward mission fulfillment.


Account for (and allow for) disruption.

Trust Strategy and Personnel Decisions – “A new broom sweeps clean,” so no matter the skillset, experience, charm, etc., a new CEO possesses, they will make change. Sometimes that change is disruptive. The CEO must have the latitude to align strategy and staffing to improve organizational performance on the road to fulfilling the organization’s purpose. As long as there is a sound basis for the new leader’s decisions, the Board must step up and support the decisions, even when changes are perceived as significant or disruptive. To help with navigating change, we like William Bridges‘ transition framework.

Beware of short-term-thinking syndrome.

Change takes time, so watch out for short-term thinking. Leadership transitions usually take two or three years to fully integrate management and resources for impact. This requires courage beyond the comfort zone for most board members. Be prepared to buck status quo thinking when new leadership arrives.

Entrepreneur, author, and speaker, Seth Godin reminds us that it’s good (and healthy) to challenge the status quo. Don’t be afraid to do things differently. This is how innovation happens.


Onboarding: A 3-Part Series

At the root of all of this work are three simple words: intentional board development.

A new CEO’s success will require the Board to lead, adapt, and grow, sometimes facing uncomfortable truths about themselves or the organization along the way. Invest now in strengthening your Board’s cultural intelligence.

Throughout the month of March, we’re navigating you through the ins and outs of leadership onboarding in our 3-Part Series. So far, we’re covered long-term strategies and short-term tactics for high-functioning boards to support their new leaders’ success.

Next week, we’re guiding your leaders on the cusp—or in the early trenches—of new positions in leadership.

Until next week, stay curious and courageous friends!


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Hey there, I'm Kimberley

Welcome! I believe our social sector organizations are at the forefront of making here better. With more than 33 years of diversified fundraising and nonprofit experience, I partner with courageous organizations committed to building clarity and confidence. Let’s connect and chart your nonprofit’s path to thriving. 

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