Leadership succession – It happens

Wherever your division falls, having a clear and documented leadership succession plan in place will make way for a smooth transition with your division

“The only thing constant in life is change.”

“A community is like a ship; everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm.”

“The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.”

Change and succession happen all the time.  Leadership succession is something you inherit and normally within a year you bequeath.  At some point, all organizations experience this; regardless of its demographics, rules or policies.  Many divisions have just gone through its leadership shift and many others are about to face it at the beginning of the year.  Wherever your division falls, having a clear and documented process in place will make way for a smooth transition with your division. 

Your division should bylaws maps out the course of action in the event an executive officer resigns, needs to be removed or becomes inactive.  The bylaws should also be clear regarding the division’s leadership structure, process for nominations, elections, and responsibilities of leadership.  Clear!  Simple!  Organized!  Detailed! 

What about the day-to-day operations of the division?  What about the undocumented undertakings that comes along with being an executive officer?  What about the processes, the shortcuts, the best practices for getting the work done? 

Many division officers find themselves beginning their term in office and have little to no idea what is it they are to do and how to do what it is they were elected to do.  This can leave officers spending much of their official term trying to figure out ‘where to go from here’.  This period of transition, without a solid leadership succession plan, could cause a lag in your division’s growth.  Having a succession plan at the board level (which encompasses board leadership, officers and committee chairs) can keep your divisions running smoothly, alleviating much of the questions and anxiety that goes along with officers assuming a new role; giving your officers the freedom to lead, fulfill their responsibilities and accomplish their initiatives.

One key element of succession planning that sometimes gets overlooked is that it fills the organization’s talent and member participation pipeline.  It helps to identify the leadership talent in others and can help begin the grooming process so that the leadership continues to be fresh and innovative.  Identifying your talent pool may help your division recruit, retain and engage younger members that will potentially be the leaders in the coming years.  This may alleviate the stress of finding members to run for office or fill any vacancies.  While your division’s structure may not change; it gives the division the flexibility to mentor young leaders and to consider new ideas to keep the division relevant and active.

Here are some points, recommendations and best practices related to succession planning to help you and your division transition smoothly between changing of officers. 

I.  Bylaws
The division bylaws should be clear regarding the division’s leadership structure, process for nominations, elections, and responsibilities of leadership.

II.  Job Descriptions
The division should consider having job descriptions for each officer.  These descriptions should be clear, realistic and outlines the duties, responsibilities and expectations for each position. 

III.  Governance/Nominating Committee
A governance/nominating committee should be tasked with the responsibility to identify potential candidates for leadership positions, interview those candidates, review roles and responsibilities with the candidates and obtain their permission to submit their names for consideration for leadership positions within the division.  This is an opportunity to recruit current and new members to get involved.

IV.  Orientation
Once officers are elected, there should be a formal orientation process.  If possible, the seasoned/current officer should act as a mentor to the incoming officer; giving them ample time to learn and understand the duties before taking them over. 

And of course, strongly encourage your President-Elect to attend the Division Leadership Conference!

V.  President-Elect
The President-Elect is one of the most important officers and plays a key role on the executive committee.  Grooming this officer should begin the day he/she takes office.  The President-Elect should not only learn the role of president, but should also learn the roles and duties of each officer on the board.  This will give them the organizational knowledge to fully understand how the division may operate.  By the time they take on the office of President, they already have the background to run the division and can focus more on pursuing their presidential initiatives.  Shadowing the President, the President-Elect would have in-depth mentoring which tends to lead to a smoother transition as president. 

VI.  Past President
The Past President can be another key officer to aid in smooth transitions.  They’ve just stepped down as the leader and may have a lot of valuable advice to offer.  A Past President can also act as a mentor to the President-Elect as the President’s time gets consumed as their term progresses.  Utilize them! 

VII.  Replacements
In many instances, the office of president is the only office that has an automatic replacement.  Most bylaws are written so that if the President can’t carry out his/her term, the president-elect steps into the role.  When a vacancy arises on the board, whether the replacement is appointed by the president or there’s another election; have a replacement named for each office.  These replacements may be temporary; however having them already listed, makes for a much easier transition until a permanent one is found.  The division’s business will experience little interruption. 

VIII.  Internal Programs
There are things each officer does that are not outlined in the bylaws or job descriptions.  They are the “other duties as assigned” or “other duties as inherited”.  Each office of the executive board should have an “owner’s manual” that specifies duties, assignments, go-to-persons, etc. to prevent newly elected officers from reinventing the wheel with each new term. 

It goes without saying; however, all outgoing leaders should be formally recognized for their contributions, efforts and time devoted to the division!  

Succession planning; it really can take the anxiety out of leadership transitions when well-planned and implemented.