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  • Writer's pictureChris Gandy

How a Departing CEO Should Gracefully Exit Stage Right

The departure of a CEO, for whatever reason, can be disruptive for an organisation.

No matter what the relationship was with the Board and Staff, a departing CEO has a responsibility to remain loyal to the organisation and its mission and to leave with as much grace and positivity as possible.

Exiting in this way isn't as easy as it sounds even when the relationship has been cordial and constructive. A common trap many departing CEO's fall into, especially long serving ones, is to anoint a successor.

Tom Adams has researched this matter widely and his findings show that internal successors rarely work out for a number of reasons.

First, because the board has the right and responsibility to hire the new CEO, a successor hand-picked by the former CEO, seldom has the full support of the board.

Second, a good deputy doesn't necessarily have the skills to be a good leader. Plus, it takes an exceptional person to step out of the shadow of a former leader and put their distinctive stamp on the culture of an organisation. For this reason, we often find good deputies make good CEOs - but in other organisations.

The third, and probably most compelling reason. is that organisations invariably benefit from a fresh perspective and new ideas brought to the table by an external candidate.

Another hole a departing CEO can fall into is to devote their notice period to a farewell tour - saying their goodbyes to staff, stakeholders, funding bodies, community members etc. While these activities have a place, they shouldn't take precedence over diligently ensuring the organisation is left in the best place possible for the new CEO.

Rather than clocking off once notice has been given, a CEO can leave a wonderful legacy by recommending to their Board that they NOT rush off to engage a Recruitment Firm. Rather they should choose a far more constructive path by implementing a Leadership Transition Plan.

At Cause & Effective we specialise in the development and implementation of Leadership Transition Plans for Not-for-Profits. These Plans detail how to manage leadership turnovers in ways that can enhance mission impact while avoiding many of the pitfalls associated with such events. It also informs the Board as to the attributes required of the new CEO to take the organisation to the next level, as well as being a key strategy to attract great candidates for the new exciting role.

There is a saying that you can't have a beginning without an ending. Taking this a bit further, Tim Wolfred points out: "The quality of the new beginning is dependent to a large measure on the quality and completeness of the ending".

By recommending a Leadership Transition Plan, a departing CEO is delivering a quality ending and, in turn, contributing to a quality new beginning. And that is something to feel satisfied about!

By Chris Gandy, the Principal and Managing Director at Cause & Effective - an organisation focused on successfully guiding Boards through leadership transitions.

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