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  • Writer's pictureChris Gandy

Good CEO candidates aren’t fools

We have a few people to thank for encouraging us to develop our Janus CEO Transition Program. Unwittingly, Alex was one of them.

I have known Alex and the organisation he was the Board Chair of for a number of years. About two years ago I ran into him at a conference and he informed me that their CEO was about to leave. I couldn’t say it came to me as a surprise – it was well-known that the organisation was struggling with funding and capacity issues and there had been some friction between the CEO and Board.

What did take me back though was Alex’s absolute optimism about finding a suitable replacement.

“There is a bucket load of people out there who will throw their hat in the ring for this job. The seat won’t be cold for too long”

While I agreed that any number of people would aspire to the role, I questioned whether the organisation would be able to attract a pool of top quality candidates if the organisation’s rather serious issues either hadn’t been resolved or at least were being addressed by coherent strategies.

He responded…

“Well that will be the new CEO’s problem”

I wished him well and wondered off shaking my head in search of a coffee.

Subsequently, I heard on the grapevine that Alex’s board did recruit a new CEO within weeks of our meeting. That person lasted 4 months in the role. Five months later the organisation, which had been serving its community for 36 years was taken over by a national provider.

Of course, it is impossible to say whether Alex’s organisation would have survived had they approached their CEO recruitment differently. However, their “take anyone” strategy doesn’t seem too savvy to me.

In my view, a primary responsibility of a not for profit board is to attract and recruit the very best candidates they possibly can for their organisation. The key to this is to understand that a successful candidate search is primarily a sales and promotional activity. And a basic tenant of sales is to intimately understand your product as well as your potential customers.

You see, when it comes to the top echelon of CEO candidates, they need to be excited by an opportunity. They are experienced leaders who yearn to take organisations to the next level.

Critically, they are architects and builders, not mechanics. They are forward looking and not enthused by the idea of having to repair someone’s past mistakes before they can even consider moving the organisation forward.

And if a Board tries to paper over some organisational problems, all I can suggest is don’t bother, as another quality of top CEO candidates is that they aren’t fools. They will discover any serious vulnerabilities in an organisation and more than likely share them with their peers.

So how could Alex’s organisation and many like it have any hope whatsoever of attracting truly great candidates?

The answer lies in the Board stepping up to the plate and embracing their core responsibility in providing leadership direction. To do this they need time and guidance to thoroughly reconsider where the organisation is going, how it is going to get there and the prerequisite skills and attributes of the person they need to attract to lead it to the new level.

Sounds a big call, but actually the solution is very attainable and exists in the form of one of our Janus CEO Transition Program. The Program provides a Board and organisation with precious breathing space and expert interim leadership to right the ship (if necessary) and pivot the organisation on a new and exciting trajectory. And, critically, when the organisation is ready to go to market for a new permanent CEO it will clearly demonstrate that it:

  • Has deliberated long and hard about where the organisation is going and the right person to take it there.

  • Has taken proactive steps to address any internal capacity issues.

  • Is absolutely committed to providing their new CEO with a solid foundation so as to allow them to be future focused from day one.

Good CEO candidates will take note of the transformative changes taking place and an interest will be sparked – after all they aren’t fools.

By Chris Gandy.

Chris is the Founder of Cause & Effective. He and his team help cause-based organisations open the door to opportunities when their CEO departs.

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