06 Mar

Leadership Succession: Familiar Steps

One of the key things I advise clients when planning for leadership succession is to treat the process like you would fundraising.


  • Create a pool of potential leaders based on their skills, attributes and characteristics measured against your job description
  • Be sure to consider the specific needs of the organization at the moment in time given the current environment and the organization’s future strategic direction


  • Decide who is the right person to be charged with cultivation
  • Think about the prospect’s current knowledge of and involvement with the organization
  • Discuss moves to further educate and engage them
  • Understand and respond to their motivations
  • Articulate the benefits of leadership


  • Determine who is the right person to ask and the right time
  • Explain to the prospect why they are uniquely qualified to help and in what specific way
  • Present the leadership opportunity as an honor

On a personal note, both times I have agreed to take on significant volunteer leadership roles (that I did not seek but rather sought me), I was asked by senior professionals who came to me and presented the case why I was uniquely qualified to take on the particular role.  They were very specific why my legal, executive search or change management skills were needed by the respective organizations at their given inflection points in history and the current strategic priorities underway. Contrast this to the all too common approach of begging someone to take a leadership role or insisting that they would be “great”. Which approach feels more like a calling or an honor? Which approach is harder to say no to?


To retain and grow volunteers in order to create a leadership pipeline, it is important to:

  • Have a positive attitude about your organization’s work and impact
  • Engage in frequent conversations about how things are going, ask if volunteers feel that they are adequately supported and how they see their role now and in the future
  • Show appreciation and provide motivation from the staff and volunteer leadership.
  • Spotlight volunteers!
  • Invest in professional development that supports their interests and how they want to grow

Leadership development and succession planning are hard work but may just be the most important things you do. Take the time to plan with intentionality.


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