Last week was emotional. HOPE had a sendoff for our talented and enthusiastic Director of Development, Katie Nienow. She’s joining Juntos, a startup in Silicon Valley helping provide the poor with financial services. We are thrilled for her new assignment and are grateful for the way she will continue serving HOPE at key events and through her ongoing friendship.
Her departure caused me to think about succession planning and how to transition well.
Katie provided a case study of successful succession by focusing on the following things:
- Plan for it. Katie had invested in her team and specifically in our Director of Advancement, Chris Horst. She identified a competent and qualified “successor” who could continue building our development team and had gradually delegated responsibilities to build the capacity of others.
- Define success with a long-term perspective. Katie knew the measure of success for a leader should not be what happens while they’re at the helm of the organization—but rather what happens after they leave. If we all defined our success by the state of our departments two years after we leave, we would probably act differently today.
- Invest in people. Having trained her team well, Katie consistently involved other members of her team and invested in building their capacity.
- Create systems and procedures. Recognizing you can’t rely just on institutional memory, Katie was systematic in creating processes for team members to follow.
- Realize the mission is more important than any one person. Thinking about the mission and her team members instead of just her reputation, Katie had established a core team who knew how to do their work and knew where they were going.
I love my job. And I have no plans leaving it for a long time. But when I do, I want to follow Katie’s example and be measured by what happens to HOPE after I’m gone. This means involving others more intentionally in key tasks, investing in key leaders, and consistently improving systems.
I like feeling needed and withholding information or managing key tasks and relationships is one way to safeguard your importance. Why bring others with you to important meetings or tasks when you can do it yourself?
But this tightfisted approach shows that it’s not about the mission; it’s about us. And it’s harmful to an organization.
The best indicator of whether you are a successful leader is—what did you leave in your wake?