You Have Just Lost Your Executive Director. Now What?

The Pivotal Role of the Interim Executive Director

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Leadership change is one of the largest risks to the stability and wellbeing of nonprofit organizations.  Whether a beloved leader has left the organization or a failing leader has been let go, the board, staff, key partners and constituents feel the impact.  Change like this causes anxiety about the unknown and stress on every part of the organization.  The board response is often to rush into hiring a new executive director to alleviate these feelings and to create the appearance everything is under control. This rushing fails to fully leverage the beauty of the opportunity of change. A leadership transition provides the perfect moment to take a step back, assess the needs of the organization and prepare for the future.

An individual going through big change will often go on sabbatical, take advantage of coaching or pause to see where they are, where they are headed and what they have learned about themselves that will help them get there.  An organization, just like a person, will benefit most from change when taking the time for this level of focused introspection. It needs to be able to take a step back and create room for change, get coaching, assess where it is and where it wants to go and most importantly, continue its work without interruption. This is the pivotal role of the Interim Executive Director.

The Interim Executive Director provides leadership and stability and has the capability to take a deep dive into the culture, practices, programs, and impact of the organization.   The ability to take a 360-degree look at every aspect of the organization while continuing to deliver services is the key to putting the right person in place to lead the organization to future successes.

The Interim Executive Director is charged with ensuring the day to day operation of the organization, discovering what is working, where there may be blind spots and creating a strategy for moving forward.  This is in concert with the dedicated individuals in the organization who are committed to the vision and mission of the work they are doing. All this is done with an end goal of creating clarity for the organization about its next steps and the skill set required from a new Executive Director to successfully lead the organization forward. 

The pivotal role of the Interim Executive Director is to be the pause that makes it possible to leverage the full power change can bring. The organization can breathe, recollect, reinvigorate and potentially reimagine its future. Then, a new Executive Director can step into their role with a firm organizational foundation beneath them and a clear direction for moving forward.

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