Association Management Basics: Successful Leadership Transitions

I just finished Hans Finzel’s Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make. This book is nearly 20 years old, but it includes some timeless advice for leaders, with a particularly good chapter on successful leadership transitions.Top Ten

The transition to a new senior association executive presents a great opportunity for an organization to grow and innovate, but transitions that aren’t handled well can set an organization back for years Finzel says.

Finzel also says that anticipating and preparing for a leadership transition is something good leaders should do from their very first day on the job. Finzel says ideally, an association executive should identify and mentor their successor.

An executive leadership transition is a great way to propel an association forward, reflecting the updated goals of the governing board. Leadership transitions should be seen as an exciting opportunity for all parties – the board, the new and departing leaders, and the staff. An association or non-profit needs a steady flow of new ideas and fresh blood and a new leader brings these.

Fumbled leadership transitions do happen, but the chances are slim.

Here’s a partial list of things to keep in mind to insure your association’s successful transition to a new leader.

  • Mutual respect – Both the incoming and exiting executives must have respect for what the other brings to the table.
  • Efficiency – Departing leaders that stay around too long do much more damage than those that don’t stay long enough.
  • Cooperation – The team that’s staying in place should bend over backwards to welcome the new leader and have faith in the selection made by the board. Any resistance from the team will harm the organization in the short term and ultimately lead to someone’s departure.
  • Board Involvement – No other task is more important for a board than selecting a new leader. The Board must be clear and specific about what they’re looking for in the new leader and their performance goals must be reasonable.
  • Trust the Experts – If your organization has the resources to use a search firm to find a new leader they should do it. Search firms, commonly called “headhunters” offer comprehensive services far beyond just finding potential candidates. They’ve been involved with countless leadership transitions so their advice should be encouraged.

In Finzel’s book he says that “finishing well is an important measure of success in leadership.” Exiting gracefully can be a challenge, but it’s important to remember that when one door closes another one will inevitably open. There’s another organization that needs the help of the departing leader. It’s just a matter of finding them.

Association leaders new and old should read Beth Brooks’ book, The New CEO’s Guide, Advice for the First-Time, Aspiring, or Current Association Executives. Brooks is the President and CEO of the Texas Society of Association Executives. This is one of the newer books in the world of association management guides, and it’s great for both new and current senior association executives. Her style is very readable, and Brooks covers all of the basic elements of strong association leadership.

Travel Notes: New Orleans, Mobile & Fairhope


Faulkner House Books, Pirates Alley, the French Quarter of New Orleans


St. Louis Cathedral New Orleans

I had the good fortune to miss last week’s blizzard in DC. I was on the Gulf Coast, where it almost never snows, for work and pleasure. Notable stops included Commander’s Palace in New Orleans. It was my first meal there is about 35 years and I was expecting to find that the Garden District classic had been left behind in the incredible new cuisine renaissance taking place down there. But it hasn’t, and my dinner there was the best of many good meals last week in New Orleans.  I also visited the fascinating National World War II Museum, St. Louis Cathedral, and Faulkner House Books.  Faulkner House is located behind the St. Louis Cathedral and it’s where William Faulkner lived during the 1920s.  Today, it’s a tiny bookstore specializing in first edition fiction by Southern authors.

In Alabama, the highlight was visiting family and good friends in Fairhope and Mobile. I also finally made it to Callaghan’s Irish Social Club. An old pub in downtown Mobile that has become an intimate concert venue for serious singer songwriters. We enjoyed shows by Dylan LeBlanc and Andrew Duhon.

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1 Response to Association Management Basics: Successful Leadership Transitions

  1. Derek Dewitt says:

    I like that you mention cooperation in the workplace when a new leader is put into place. I believe that, in a business, it’s important to have all parties happy with any changes to avoid problems down the road. Association management usually knows what is best for the company though, and should expect cooperation from old and new employees. Thanks for sharing such a critical point!

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