Will Key Staff Go If The CEO Leaves?


By Chris Gandy

Myths seen to abound in not for profits and one I heard repeated yet again this week by a NFP Board member is:

“They will all go if the CEO leaves”

The belief being that there will be an exodus of good staff if her CEO departs. The corollary of this being that we need to cajole and take care of our CEO and, on occasions, even tolerate substandard performance.

Maybe you can give me examples to the contrary, but I haven’t seen any cases of staff marching out the door behind an exiting CEO.

From my experience the emotions expressed by staff when a Chief Executive leaves range from mild disappointment to downright relief. Ameliorating any strong desire to follow suit is normally a good dose of self-interest. The majority of staff have responsibilities – bills to pay, kids to get through school etc. Besides most actually like their jobs and value their relationships with work colleagues. In 99% of the cases it is:

“Goodbye Bob, sorry to see you go, when is the new CEO starting?”

How does a myth like this get oxygen?
One is a strong need to avoid a headache. A change of leadership is a tough time for a not for profit and all eyes are on the Board. Stakeholders will look to them to find the right person to take the organisation forward. Its understandable that a volunteer Board member will come up with various reasons why change should be avoided.
Another, less obvious reason, lies in the unique features of not for profit CEO roles.
Generally, NFP Board’s highly value their CEOs – hence the view that staff have similar feelings. But have you noticed that when a CEO decides to leave, there is seldom a tear shed on the Board. This is perhaps because, in reality, the CEO’s power is positional not personal. What is revered by not for profits is the role, not the person’s skills and personality.

In the end, Board’s need to recognise that leadership change is inevitable and there is a good chance it will occur on most Director’s watch. While good CEO’s, of course, must be encouraged to stay, falsehoods shouldn’t be perpetuated as to why they should remain. A CEO’s departure presents challenges to all organisations. But on the other hand,  this change can be leveraged to benefit the organisation – and we would be happy to show you how.

Chris is the founder and a director of Cause & Effective. We guide not for profits through tricky leadership transitions – minimising the risk and capitalising on the opportunities that arise.

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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