1. Start before you have to. By starting the transition process before there was pressure to do so and before calamitous circumstances forced us, we were able to guide the transition and nominate the person we wanted for board approval. In this way, we believe we were able to choose the right person.
2. Try to select someone from inside your organization. Choosing an outsider is a pure crap shoot. You cannot know what you’re getting. Having a good resumé and interviewing well do not necessarily translate into the right kind of leadership for your organization.
Candidates tend to read your website before the interview and repeat your words back to you. Their words may sound brilliant, but their ability to do well in an interview does not mean they are right for the organization.
On the other hand, if you choose someone with whom you have worked at length, you will know what you are getting. Better still is to do what we did: select a candidate who has extensive experience inside the organization and who has also been successful outside it.
Our incoming CEO, Shamil Idriss, worked for us for 13 years, then went on to run a project at the World Economic Forum, directed the staff at the UN Alliance of Civilizations, and headed his own NGO, Soliya. Finding someone like him with both inside and outside experience may not always be possible, and, if you cannot find both, we would suggest leaning toward the inside.
3. Do the transition with care and grace. We recommend giving a great deal of attention to fostering a graceful transition. Divergent interests are bound to emerge, and the more graceful you are, the more the outside world will appreciate the process and continue to support the organization.
4. Spend time on the communication. We took a great deal of care in finding the right wording for our various announcements. It proved to be worth the trouble because we received very positive feedback.
We even received a message from the former foreign minister of an African country who said that he wished leaders in his part of the world would carry out similar transitions.
In addition, we believe that the internal communication within your organization is as important as the external.
5. Make this a fundraising opportunity. We set up a legacy fund, and the first event has already raised a substantial amount of money.
In addition, the organization made a legacy video to honor us, and this seems to have had a positive impact on donors.
6. Give space to your successor. Clearly, the new CEO will take actions that do not reflect the way you want to do things. Still, we don’t want to be in a position where we second-guess him, and we still want to be involved in the organization. Thus, we are moving to London, which has the advantage of being far away from our Washington headquarters. This should give us the space to keep contributing, while enabling the new leadership take root and grow.
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