I am part of a several organizations that are currently passing the leadership baton from founding members to the next generation. The challenge facing the current leaders is great - to honor the organization’s original intent while evolving to the next iteration, always with the purpose of giving members value. After all, the reason each organization exists is to give its members value.
Each organization and situation has their own uniquenesses but it's interesting to observe that there are some common challenges and struggles. As a leader in these organization, I felt reassured when I reflected on this, because if there are common challenges, then there is common wisdom. The past experiences that I and others in leadership have is useful. We can contribute the learning from our past experiences to help right now. Here are two common themes:
1) Define the purpose, mission and value-add of the organization
"Start every change project with a clear and compelling statement of the goal you're trying to achieve," says Joseph Grenny, co-author of Crucial Conversations.
In every organization, the purpose, mission and value that members get from their membership most likely started as one thing and has evolved over the years into what it is today. Unless your organization has recently looked at this, now's a great time to do it. With the departure of a tenured leader, it's the chance to look ahead to the next chapter, dream a little and plan a lot.
To do this well, I’ve seen organizations shoulder-tap someone within their membership who is skilled at this type of leadership. In one case, it was a senior government leader who had experience bringing together diverse groups of people within his organization. This method was powerful because the leader had been a long-time member of that church and was well-respected.
Hiring an outside facilitator is also effective if the resources don’t exist internally. A facilitator brings their years of experience and their questions spark new thinking and broader thinking.
Or perhaps the next generation of leaders has the desire to lead the discussion of purpose, mission and value-add. If this is case, then go for it! The best leadership lessons are learned on the job.
The point here is to actually take the time to talk and dream and document these goals for the future. Skip this step and you'll be missing a critical process in the evolution of the organization.
2) Help people through the change
Moments like these in an organization are challenging and high stakes. If not well-managed, the organization runs the risk of conflict and member exodus. As such, these are “change management projects” at their very core.
Change management is all about helping people through change, specifically to adopt and acclimate to the change. The focus here is on the people, helping them get used to the change and be okay with it.
How to do this well? One not-for-profit organization has taken a lot of time to engage in member dialogue. Their leaders traveled across Canada to meet with stakeholders and hear firsthand concerns and opportunities.
The concepts in the book Crucial Conversations are very helpful for the leaders who are holding the meetings. The book contains specific tips for managing one’s own emotions, for “creating mutual purpose” and for having “healthy dialogue”. Read the chapters and practice the tools and you'll get good at facing those tough conversations.
As an aside, when I was reading the book several years ago, I knew that I needed to practice the tools. But how to practice? Role-playing was helpful at the beginning, but I needed actual crucial conversations to practice getting my blood-pressure up, mastering my emotions, and bringing the conversation to a place of productivity. I forced myself to say "Thank you" each time a crucial conversation came up, because while I didn't like being on the hot seat, I did want to practice and master the tools.
Change is an inevitable part of every organization and leaders do well to embrace it and use it for greatest good. With thoughtfulness and time, one step after the other, it’s possible to reach a successful conclusion and position the organization for the next exciting chapter.
What happens if you fail to help members through this process of change? Disgruntled, unhappy, complaining, disenfranchised members for them and a plain old sucky leadership experience for you. So embrace the change project by looking it straight in the eye and getting started.
“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” -St. Francis of Assisi
Wishing you the very best in your own organization as you help your team close one chapter and start a new one,