A non-profit board I sit on has a problem: the professional leader of the organization is retiring. In the next year, we say goodbye to him (there will be tears!) and find a replacement. This leader has been terrific. The organization has grown and thrived, but has also become thoroughly identified with the leader. Replacing him is going to be a political process.
There’s a lot of trepidation in the ranks; almost no one remembers what it was like before he came on board. The natural impetus is to put other things on autopilot to focus on the transition and recruitment of just the right replacement. That is, we were settling into a very natural and potentially destructive stasis. As McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc said: “You’re either green and growing or dead and dying.” There is no balancing point between the two.
My father (smart man, wizard with a four-iron) confronted every difficulty (sand trap, broken training wheel, collapse of thinly capitalized business) with confidence that there are no problems, there are only opportunities. Losing professional leadership is a problem, but it is also an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to re-think what we are and what we do and where we want to be in the future. It’s a challenge that demands involvement and commitment, that will require us to broaden the circle of activists that make organizations like this work, and a chance for the board to stretch its muscles without the Dear Leader around to run the show.
Yeah, sure. Everyone says that and, after a few meetings and workshops, nothing happens until the New Guy unpacks his banker’s boxes and hangs his office art.
So we’re going to do more than just put a smiley on our sad. We’re forcing the issue. We’re going to put the organization in a position that absolutely requires people to turn their good intentions into actions.
During the transition, we’re going to tackle another big project, a monster – capital campaign, design, construction – without the involvement of the guy who has run everything for 20 years. Doing that is planting a flag, declaring that we are not on hold. We’re not hanging-on waiting for the cavalry to ride to the rescue. We’re not quivering in fear of the future. We’re charging forward together, inspired, interdependent, the whole much more powerful than the sum of its parts.
We’re going big when the natural urge is to go home. That decision has re-energized the organization.
There’s a lesson in that.