If everything has gone according to plan, the vice president of your board of directors has ascended to the presidency as of January first. Unless, of course, the top chair has been filled by the founder since 1942. And, before you go off thinking that is a bizarre proposition, it’s the norm in many very well run family foundations and trusts, making good sense in those cases.

But, many industry and nonprofit associations have a schedule set in their bylaws that programs what many call the ascension of “the chairs”. The treasurer/secretary moves to vice president and the vice president moves to president at the first of the next term. Theoretically, the incoming president has had at least three years to acclimate to the day when they are in the top spot.

What makes this transition work best is when the outgoing president plays a key role in the transition. But what if the departing president just up and disappears?  What if they’ve just “had it” with the extra board duties that have burdened their work and family life?  What if they are in prison? (Okay, rare and a bit harsh, but we’ve all known that to be in business history.)

What happens when the incoming president is thrust into leadership suddenly with little mentoring? Not everyone has “the leadership gene” as we have seen a few times in our management history. The answer is to lean on staff who have many years of management experience and can help the incoming president with the kind of support and details that will make the transition feel smooth.

Wanting to support one’s industry or charity is more than admirable. However, when the gavel is passed, it’s a critical time for your organization. Twice in recent times we’ve seen this go poorly. This is very unnecessary and it can hurt the organization. Professional staff can prepare a transition checklist and make all the difference when “the chairs” are in motion.

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