No Need to Hit The Panic Button When a CEO Decides to Leave


By Chris Gandy

If you have been a Director of a not for profit, I am sure you can relate to this.

I received a call recently from a Board Member of a mid-sized cause-based organisation and the conversation went roughly like this:

“Heard you are back in Executive Recruitment” she said

“Well yes, kind of, but it involves…” was all I could get out before she jumped in with…

“Great our CEO has just walked and we need to replace him, like tomorrow. Can you help?”

“Hold on, hold on”, I said. “Not only can we help you recruit a replacement but show you how to transform your organisation at the same time. How does that sound?”

This stopped her in her tracks. “What do you mean?” she asked.

We arranged to meet the next day with the Chair of her Board and it appeared the high emotion was continuing. I had a copy of the CEO’s Position Description (which was over 4 years old) thrust in my hand and was asked to get the position listed on social media Job Boards by that evening. The Chair then started to describe the veil of doom they could foresee descending on the organisation if we didn’t snare a new CEO immediately.

Admittedly the organisation was in some strife and the CEO’s exit was adding to the misery. But I desperately needed a circuit breaker in this one-way conversation so started to calmly rip the PD into little pieces and threw them into a nearby bin.

When asked what in goodness name I was doing I explained that if I was to help we would need a totally new PD. I wasn’t so much interested in where the organisation had been but where it was going – because that would tell us about the person we will need to help get it there.

I had their attention and started to explain that I my view Leadership Recruitment in the not for profit sector needed to adopt a new more considered approach. The days of Board’s muddling through a recruitment process or at best using a local Recruiter to find a clone of the previous CEO needed to end – for the sake of the sector and the millions of people who rely on the services it provides.

Sure the exit of a CEO can be stressful and time consuming for a Board and an unsettling period for staff and stakeholders. But it also presents a unique opportunity for change and growth – and we need to seize the opportunity fully. And at Cause & Effective we have developed an approach called the Leadership Transition Program (LTP) to do just that.

While it can be modified to suit each organisation the basic features of the LTP are:

  • The swift appointment of an Interim CEO. Depending upon the organisation this may be an external appointee or a member of the existing leadership team who is elevated to the role. This move is important as it conveys a message of “business as normal” to staff and stakeholders and helps avoid the dreaded “limbo period” where no decisions are made.
  • Together with the Interim CEO, the Board, staff and other stakeholders we then take stock. This involves a “warts and all” review of where the organisation now stands and is heading if no significant change occurs. Immediate management needs are identified and addressed.
  • We then move into the reframing phase as the organisation is now in a place to chart a new strategic direction or reconfirm the previous goals with renewed verve. It is a great opportunity to explore identity and direction.
  • When all are in agreement on the organisation’s future path, we craft a skill profile of the person who is going to guide us along it.
  • Incremental operational changes flowing from the earlier steps begin to occur. Organisational capacity begins to turn for the better. Any legacy issues that might hinder the success of the incoming leader are identified and addressed. A thorough search and recruitment process now commences with enthusiasm based on the knowledge the organisation now has a renewed and realistic view of the future and the type of leader they will need to help them do this.
  • Only then do we start the Leadership Search phase backed by a Board that is reenergised and excited by the possibilities presented by the organisation’s new vision.
  • This new enthusiasm will have an impact on the market and it is likely to draw the attention of candidates who previously wouldn’t have given the organisation’s recruitment campaign a second look.
  • The new leader is engaged with clear performance priorities and an agreed monitoring, support and evaluation process in place.
  • The organisation is in a great position to flourish – capacity issues have been addressed, a firm direction has been determined and a new leader with the appropriate skills, energy and desire has been engaged to guide the organisation forward.

And how did the Chair react after I explained all this. Well you won’t be disappointed to learn that the response was “That’s great and I can really see the benefits but we could never afford a Program like that”

Their mood changed when I told them that we tailor the Program to ensure it costs the organisation no more than the CEO would have been renumerated had they have stayed on.

The conversation then swung to When can you start?”

If you think your organisation or one in your network could benefit from having a chat about our Leadership Transition Program please give me a call here

Also, if you are a former or current not for profit CEO and interested in helping us deliver the LTP in your area drop me a line as well.

About Chris – Chris Gandy is the founder and a Director of Cause & Effective. They are on a mission to get all not for profit Boards to question whether they should adopt a Leadership Transition Program when their CEO decides to move on 

About B-Cause

B-Cause is published by Cause and Effective. We help good causes find and attract effective leaders.

Thats our take on things. Over to you, please add to the discussion.

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