Challenges to Addressing Leadership Transition

Challenges to Addressing Leadership Transition

challenges in Leadership Transition

In 2011, the Meyer Foundation and CompassPoint Nonprofit Services produced a research report “Daring to Lead” that surveyed 3,000 nonprofit executive directors and revealed a forecast of significant impending workplace transitions, with 67% of executives reporting that they expect to leave their jobs over the next five years.

Today, while we see many leadership transitions occurring among the Baby Boomer population, “what was once characterized as a pipeline problem can now be described as a bottleneck, as many individuals are choosing to work beyond the traditional retirement age due to a variety of reasons, including a prolonged economic recession,” reports the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation in “Moving Arts Leadership Forward.”

This reality requires organizations to examine its greatest asset – its people, their roles, and career paths – in strategic and creative ways. Workplaces can expect a robust boomer presence through at least 2034, when the youngest boomers will turn 70. This reality impacts Gen X-ers and Millennials aspiring to executive positions, where the wait time for succession is often longer than they would like.

While there was once a question of whether there were enough capable professionals to succeed an organization, now the challenge is more focused on developing and retaining early- and mid-career professionals in an environment of limited opportunities for formal advancement.

While not alone, nonprofits as a sector have considerable challenges in addressing this leadership reality, as they:

– Tend to be small-to-medium size operations and, as a result, are not likely to have as many resources to address strategy, planning, and leadership development.

– Are often institutions with a culture of group decision making, where business gets done through committees and boards of directors – a process that can create added delays and complexity.

– Can be highly funder-dependent, and any transition – especially with an organization’s top leadership – can threaten these vital relationships and the very future of the organization itself.

– Frequently are lead by an original founder or long-time executive. Over time, the top leader and the organization itself are inextricably connected. When this leader goes away, so could the organization.

– Often do not have sufficient reserves (if any at all) to weather an economic downturn, exposing the organization to significant financial vulnerabilities. Leadership transitions and professional development of its people, if not handled properly, can further intensify this situation.

– Sometimes have boards of directors who are unprepared to handle the transition and select and support new leaders. Despite over a decade of attention to this issue, executives and boards are still reluctant to talk proactively about succession, with just 17% reporting that their organizations had a written succession plan.

We must not overlook these pivotal leadership priorities for the development opportunities that they are. Properly and proactively managed, these changes and transitions provide an organization a period to pause, reflect, regroup, and focus. It’s a unique opportunity to examine strategic direction, priorities, and chart a future course. The key is not merely to endure it, but to emerge stronger and more dynamic from it.


You may be interested in these related blog posts:

Executive Leadership Transition and Organization Preparedness

Succession Planning: Conversation Avoided


brick closeAbout Jeanie Duncan: Jeanie is President of Raven Consulting Group, a business she founded that focuses on organizational change and leadership development in the nonprofit sector. She is a senior consultant for Raffa, a national firm working with nonprofit clients to lead efforts in sustainability and succession planning, executive transition and search. Additionally, Jeanie serves as adjunct faculty for the Center for Creative Leadership, a top-ranked, global provider of executive leadership education.

Why I’m a Coach

Why I’m a Coach


I am a coach today because I’ve experienced coaching’s transformative power in my own life.

Over my career, I’ve worked with several coaches. I’ve hired them for career and leadership related priorities, but every time the impact of the coaching has been much farther-reaching, affecting me deeply as a whole person.

I remember the first time I hired a coach – I was contemplating a critical career move, pursuing the President and CEO position of a large nonprofit arts organization. At the time, I was director of development for the organization, a position I had held for several years. I was really excited about the opportunity; I felt ready for it, and the timing seemed right to me. But before making my thoughts known to my organization’s board and others, I wanted to be sure I was the right person for the job.

Because I was already internal to the organization, I knew how important it was for it to have the ideal leader who would bring great energy, fresh perspective, and new ideas.  I wanted to test my assumptions that I was that person. At the time, I didn’t really know exactly what a coach did or how one would approach his or her work. I just knew that I needed a professional with whom to brainstorm confidentially—someone who could help me work through my critical career decision.

My coach listened to my story and asked a lot of questions. Her probing peeled back the layers and made me think of this transition, my readiness, and fit in ways I hadn’t previously…and wouldn’t have been able to do alone. I liked how she stretched and challenged me. It wasn’t simply what I thought, but why I held my thoughts and beliefs, and the impact of the actions I took based on those ideas.

The questions my coach asked seemed so simple, yet they were powerful and razor-sharp. Have you ever had an experience that made your head spin? This is what I remember about these encounters:  I’d leave the session and need to sit in my car awhile before I could drive away. The shift she helped me create was profound.

After a few sessions, I confirmed my decision to pursue the opportunity, and in 2003 I was appointed to the position of President and CEO.  It was exhilarating!  I loved my new venture, and I went to work eagerly on my vision and goals for leading this great community organization.

About six months into my new role, I felt myself searching for a strategy partner – someone who could be a sounding board for my big dreams and ideas, as well as my frustrations, fears, and uncertainties. I wanted someone I could really trust and be vulnerable without fear. I had truly begun to understand the cliché, “It’s lonely at the top.” I could count on three fingers the number of people in whom I could confide. And none were quite who I needed to challenge and stretch me and to hold me accountable. So, for the second time in my career, I hired a coach.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.” –Marianne Williamson

I remember the relief I felt when I found my new coach. With him, I didn’t have to be careful with my words, politically correct, or worried about what I said. It was completely freeing…and deeply empowering. He didn’t give me advice, problem-solve, or tell me what to do. But rather, my coach was my partner, posing thought-provoking questions and encouraging me to tap into my own inner wisdom and sense of knowing for direction.  It was like an intense workout to develop new muscle.

I worked with him for about a year, and then asked for his help again years later when I made the decision to step down from my position. I knew I had completed what I set out to do in the role, but I wasn’t sure what I most wanted to do next. In working with my coach, I decided to take a year off to clear my mind, explore creative pursuits, and simply relax and play. It gave me much-needed time and space to ‘incubate’ what would come next.

During this year off I began to shape my own business. When I freed up my “internal hard drive,” I realized more clearly what I loved most and wanted to do. I had derived great satisfaction from helping organizations and their leaders tackle tough business issues, crises, and transitions. In my work, I often had been called upon to help nonprofit organizations with challenging matters related to funding, personnel, governance, and programming. I reflected on my best work in assessing and navigating the complexity of these uncertain and often turbulent situations and inter-relationships. My coach helped me see that this work I’d been doing—and really enjoying—was organizational and individual coaching.

I proceeded to complete training and certification through the Coaches Training Institute (CTI), the largest and oldest coach training organization in the world. Coaching is a core part of my business today because of my own personal experience in working with a coach and my passion for helping others navigate their challenges and opportunities and realize their greatest potential. I continue to experience coaching’s transformative power in my life, and I am gratified to see its impact on my clients. I can think of no greater joy.

brick closeAbout Jeanie Duncan: Jeanie is President of Raven Consulting Group, a business she founded that focuses on organizational change and leadership development in the nonprofit sector. She is a senior consultant for Raffa, a national firm working with nonprofit clients to lead efforts in sustainability and succession planning, executive transition and search. Additionally, Jeanie serves as adjunct faculty for the Center for Creative Leadership, a top-ranked, global provider of executive leadership education.

Journey with Intention

I had the pleasure last week of organizing and moderating a panel presentation to Greensboro’s Women’s Professional Forum: “Navigating Your Career with Intention: knowing when to make a change and having the courage to leap.” Michelle Clark, Laurelyn Dossett, and Kathy Ridge came together sharing their personal journey of career transition.

Both Michelle and Kathy are former corporate executives who now have launched their own independent endeavors: Michelle, as a soon-to-be published author, and Kathy as founder of her own consulting practice. Laurelyn has followed her lifelong passion of music, becoming an acclaimed musician, singer, and songwriter.

Their stories revealed the underlying currents that sparked a change in direction, propelled them to action, and gave them courage to close one chapter and open a new one.

While each was unique, the collection of experiences shared presented gems of commonality:

  • Live awake. We all have an internal compass that will guide us if we simply pay attention. And listen.
  • Know who you are. This is not about the various roles each of us serves, but rather, “who am I, really?” Allow this and your core values to drive you.
  • Live with the end in mind. We all have a story to tell. How will yours end? What mark will you leave? How does this guide you in the present moment?
  • Living your life with purpose and intention starts with one small step. What step will you take today? Tomorrow?
  • Believe in yourself and your own best work. Unconditionally.

On the Market

A good friend and colleague once said to me, “You should always consider yourself ‘on the market.’” She offered this in the context of a conversation we were having about job searching, and the thoughts of beginning a search as if it’s an “event” – like a switch you flip or trigger you pull.

Job searching is a daunting process with a long list of tasks: revise resume, update Linked In, connect with your network, search the internet, prepare for interviews, and so on. Yet, if you embrace a mind shift and always think of yourself in marketing terms – product, supply, demand, audience – it removes some of that pressure.

Consider for a moment: If you’re perpetually ‘on the market,’ it implies you are ‘at the ready’ and poised for opportunities. Shouldn’t we all be? Afterall, if you don’t continually refine and sharpen your unique attributes, present and market yourself, who will? You are your #1 agent and champion. Position yourself as such.

Refine your resume and have it ready for the right opportunity. Perhaps this is something you do annually or biannually, associated with your performance review.

Maintain an updated Linked In, complete with the key words and phrases to showcase your attributes and attract your desired opportunity and direction.

Be a serial networker, building relationships to develop your personal and professional capital among key people. Within your broader network of contacts, cultivate a smaller core of your closest allies. The more diverse (in terms of position, geography, skillset, etc.) that top group is, the better. It will extend your reach and influence.

Perform at your best in the present moment while knowing what you want most for your future. Focus on that target, understanding that it continually evolves.

– If this target requires additional education or skill development, take steady action in small, achievable steps to acquire it so you’ll be ready.

– If an opportunity you seek is a significant shift, perhaps it’s in a different company division or a new industry altogether, find ways to connect and position yourself among the leadership and in the environments you desire.

Know your top three to five strengths and be able to talk about them in terms of the value you can deliver. Resist the temptation to sell everything you can do. You’ll come across as a generalist and lessen your leverage.

Identify and work with an executive coach. It’s an investment that will yield great dividends – an outside perspective to help you gain a greater sense of awareness and cultivate your own inner knowing to chart your course.