Ten easy ways to ensure success

  1. Give them enough room to establish their own style.
  2. Give them time to learn what they need to know.
  3. Give them the opportunity to do things differently.
  4. Give them the opportunity to try something else when that doesn’t work.
  5. Give them the opportunity to fail, a couple of times, without losing face.
  6. Give them time to establish a dynamic with the staff.
  7. Give them your trust.
  8. Give them your support.
  9. Give them your confidence.
  10. Give them your ear and best advice, when it is requested.

Getting them up to speed

To ensure continuity and a smooth and successful transition, the board should help the director get off to the right start by providing a good orientation and initial guidance.  One way to avoid overburdening board members during a leadership change is to have them form two committees: a search committee and a transition committee.  The transition committee works with the new leader after he or she is hired.

  • Go over the financials of the organization together.  Make sure you are considering actual income and factoring in outstanding obligations.  Be sure you are on the same page in terms of where the finances are for the organization.
  • Develop a calendar with major projects and deadlines and block out planning time.  Be sure to include board meetings, grant deadlines, and major events committed.
  • Educate the new director on the history of the organization.  It is important that this information be used as background and as a way to avoid previous mistakes.
  • Connect the new director with relevant key external resources and bring them up to speed on the history of the relationship where relevant.  The board chair should send letters of introduction to these people informing them of the new staffer and encouraging contact.   Let the director take it from there.
  • Seek out opportunities to work and socialize together to get to know one another better.  The board chair and new director might both attend a conference that has relevance to the organization.
  • The new director should be encouraged to reach beyond the organization for support.  Often support groups comprised of directors of similar organizations can be very valuable.
  • The director should get evaluations by the board at both the six month and one year marks.  These evaluations should focus on goals.
  • The board should regularly assess their own performance in supporting the director.
  • The board needs to create a way that staff can communicate directly with the board during the introductory period. However, it should be made clear that the board will not get in the middle between the staff and the new director.
  • Help the new director avoid the trap of trying to do too much too soon. It takes time for even the most experienced leaders to get up to speed. Allow the new director to find their footing and avoid making hasty decisions.

Establishing communication channels

The chair should initiate informal check-in calls to the new director. These should be informal enough conversations to allow the director to speak candidly about how things are going.  Members of the transition committee can share this duty with the chair and form a schedule for checking in and visiting with the new director.

Board members respond to having real work to do and leadership transitions often provide the opportunity for this meaningful work to occur.  The wise board will recognize their work has just begun with the hiring of the new director.  The search process can be exhausting.  There will be change under the leadership of their new director and the board needs to have energy to engage in that process.  The board needs to be open to new ideas, new directions, and new ways of doing their business.  The new director should be granted the latitude and trust necessary for him/her to find their own leadership position and style.  Board members should be cautioned against micromanaging the new director.