Announcing your new leader with fanfare

When asked to serve on the transition team for the newly selected head of a ministry organization, I said “yes,” but with more than a little fear and trembling. I worry that hovering will annoy or worse, dis-empower the appointed one. On the other hand, I’ve lived through messes caused by a too-hands-off approach by the board and I don’t want to go there again.

Finding that just-right middle ground isn’t easy, which may explain, at least in part, the dismal stats on nonprofit CEO longevity.

So what’s a board and its transition team to do?


trumpet_line_fanfare_6794According to a piece in the June 2013 Harvard Business Review, our first and most important action isn’t (as we’ve assumed) in the direction of our new leader. It’s an outward activity.

Our first task is to get the announcement of the appointment right.

That’s not the advice I expected. But the HBR article presents a compelling case, complete with the warning that a communication stumble “can undo all the work that went into the selection and hobble even the strongest leader from the start.”

Per the HBR article, a well-crafted announcement process provides answers to four key questions:

  • What message is this appointment meant to convey?
  • Why is this person the right one for the job?
  • Which members of the organization and its constituency need to be informed?
  • What should they be told and when?

It’s tempting at the end of a long search to slap together a press release announcing the new leader and then get on with the real work. But as the HBR piece explains, and as I’ve experienced through my involvement in CEO searches, taking time to craft thoughtful, well-stated, well-planned answers to the four questions sets the new leader and the organization up for success.

As the HBR writers put it: “A formal announcement is the end of the beginning – and, one hopes, not the beginning of the end. . . When you’ve taken so much care to select someone, make sure you give that person a good start.”

So back to the transition team of which I am a part. Before we start telling our new CEO what he should (or shouldn’t) be doing, we have a big job of our own. We’ve a story to tell and we need to tell it well, with fanfare even – for the sake of our new leader and for the sake of our mission.

For more on CEO search and transition, see:

Bagging a different kind of CEO

Hi-ho, CEO! Away!

New leader, you thought your board wanted what?


What's your take on this topic?

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