Transitioning Leadership: A New Study

A research study focused on CEO transitioning and organizational leadership sustainability in North American Jewish nonprofits has been released.

Similarly titled, Effective CEO Transitioning/Leadership Sustainability in North American Jewish Nonprofit Organizations, the study explores the nature and challenges of the many challenges faced today.

from the Executive Summary:

Huge numbers of CEOs are now well into their early and mid-sixties. Long before 2020, it is broadly projected that an overwhelming percent of these “aging baby-boomers” will be exiting the field. Most of these departures will be voluntary, but that will not always be the case. Too often, CEO departures have been marked by conflict – both within the leadership of the organization and “within” the CEO’s own mind and actions… or inactions.

Hence, the true challenge is to ensure not only that these departures will be less conflictual but also that they will be better planned and effective for both the CEOs and their organizations. This is essential so that dedicated, accomplished, and long-tenured professionals and their employer organizations can both be sustained and enriched following the incumbents’ departures.

In sum, the true transitioning challenge has three components: (1) how to better enhance a board’s own preparation for smoother and more effective transitioning in its top professional leadership; (2) how to create a process that is more conducive to CEOs’ planning for a smoother, more effective passing of the baton during their concluding tenures; and (3) how CEOs can plan and prepare for their own transitions to meaningful and fulfilling post-agency lives. This last component is particularly important because current CEOs are projected to have post-agency lives of 20 years or longer.

In the corporate sector, succession planning is accepted more generally as a prudent organizational reality. However, in the nonprofit sector, too often it generates high anxiety by the CEO and avoidance by both the leader and the organization, which defers planning actions to a point that is “too late” for all concerned. These scenarios serve neither the organizations nor CEO very well.

A survey was designed and fielded to approximately 1,500 CEOs in the Jewish nonprofit world to explore these transition challenges. It yielded a very high response rate: 440 CEOs responded to the survey with candid, insightful data that shed instructive light on the challenges that lie ahead.

Survey findings clearly point to the urgency of these challenges. One major finding is that the vast majority of Jewish nonprofits do not have an “in-place” emergency back-up plan to address the situation of an unforeseen event in which the CEO exits very abruptly. An even larger percentage of responding CEOs report that their organizations have no formalized succession plans. These troubling findings, and the reasons underpinning them, are cause for alarm in the Jewish community. Fortunately, they are also mandates for affirmative and, in many cases, immediate action steps.

This report also examines the reasons why CEOs of Jewish nonprofits and boards have been unwittingly delinquent in transition management. First, a great majority of CEOs reported that they prefer to leave on their own timetable because they have, heretofore, given so much invaluable – bordering on selfless – time and effort to their organization. Second, many CEOs are poorly prepared for post-agency life. This failure to apply the finely honed planning skills they have used so well for organizational programs and services to their own transition to post-agency life is sadly ironic.

Third, there appears to be a shocking disconnect between CEOs’ visions and plans for succession and the boards’ visions and plans, if they are even known. Further, a surprisingly high percentage of CEOs exhibit relatively low confidence that their boards would select an appropriate successor. Finally, CEOs are also markedly concerned about being “lame ducks” – a status where their perceived and actual authority diminishes in a limbo period between announcing their intent to step down and their departure.

The report outlines ten recommendations that address the underlying reasons for the immediate challenges as well as provides long-range, sustainable solutions to the succession planning challenges in this decade.

To conclude, current transition management, whatever state it is in, must evolve into proactive transition leadership. For this to take place, both lay and professional leadership must be true partners in designing, implementing, and committing to viable and sustainable solutions.

The complete report, Effective CEO Transitioning/Leadership Sustainability in North American Jewish Nonprofit Organizations, can be downloaded here.

Also see Report on Effective Succession Planning in Jewish Nonprofits by the study’s author, Steven Noble.