Thoughts on Leadership, Change and Succession


I've always thought of the day after Labour Day as the beginning of a second new year.  As colleagues return to work from vacations and “staycations”, one can sense a renewed focused energy, a ramping up of gears, a new sense of purpose that organizations take on after the long lazy days of summer.  This year more than most I felt that there was a sense of change in the air.

Over the last weeks of summer, OCASI's Policy and Membership senior coordinator sent out internal updates about the changes happening in the membership and the sector. There was a measurable increase in movement of leadership, from one organization to another within the sector, to complementary work in the broader non-profit sector and from sector to funding institutions or even government. It seemed that I received a call at least every other day from a recruitment agency or Board of Directors' delegate wanting suggestions of new leaders who may be suitable for senior leadership positions in these organizations.

This raised for me the issue of succession planning. I wondered if as a sector we're coming to a point where senior leaders are looking for new opportunities outside of the sector and we have not prepared the next tier of leaders to take over. A few years ago there was much discussion about career paths within organizations, about identifying leadership potential in employees early and putting in place a program of leadership development.  The Non-Profit/Voluntary H/R Sector Council, before its unfortunate demise earlier this year, held a series of discussions/training on the topic.  I sat in a room of dynamic women and men, all leaders in their own right, a couple of years ago and listened and discussed the importance of succession planning and how necessary it was if we were to thrive as a sector. That conversation seemed to have stopped.  I don't believe it's because the Sector Council as animator no longer exist, but that as organizations we don't have the time or the wherewithal to put in place the kind of leadership development program that's necessary for effective succession.

This issue is particularly salient for us at OCASI as the Council prepares for a new presidency. Our outgoing president has been doing much thinking and discussing with her Board colleagues about her succession. About a year ago, the Board held an impromptu discussion on succession planning when the issue was raised by one of the directors. The discussion that followed was generative and many ideas about process, and planning were put on the table, but no concrete plan came into fruition. I know that the process of choosing our next president will be transparent and will result in effective leadership just as it has in the past. My hope is that one of his or her priorities for the coming term will be the development of a succession plan for the presidency. And even, dare I say,  the position of Executive Director.