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Succession planning means more than just ensuring a strong, healthy board membership.  One important aspect of succession planning is ensuring that the leadership of the board most commonly known as the Executive or board officers, has the talent and capability of stepping into any of the positions in the leadership group in the event of an emergency or unexpected vacancy

It also means having a clear and transparent process for how executive positions are filled.  People involved in membership organizations are no longer willing to tolerate secret or “behind closed door” processes for how executive officers are selected.  There is growing concern among those who make up the regular membership that if the process is secretive what else is being hidden from them.

For the health and vitality of all boards, it is important to ensure that the process for executive officer selection be transparent.

It is also important that an executive officer succession plan optimize the likelihood that the people who fill these positions match the leadership needs of the board.  The organization’s vision and strategic plan contain the criteria for the board’s leadership requirements.  These should the key criteria in the selection process used by the board.

A straightforward way to achieve this is to develop a succession plan that automatically moves someone up the ladder from Secretary-Treasurer to 2nd Vice-President to 1st Vice-President to Chairperson.  If you choose this strategy, it is very important to ensure that board members are selected or elected to these positions because they possess the knowledge, skills and attitudes required to do the job and not because they have served the required amount of time, have demonstrated loyalty to the organization, and/or have nothing else to do.  These last qualities do not make for good leadership.

As part of the succession plan, the Chairperson should view the executive officers as a team and use that concept as the basis for working together.  It is important for each to be familiar with the roles and functions of the others and be prepared to fill in or take over for one another should that be required.

Leadership training and board development opportunities should be part of what is provided to board members each year and it should be a requirement that members of the leadership team participate.

The legacy of each board should be a standard of excellence in governance that is higher than the board that preceded it.  One key ingredient in making this happen is an ambitious succession plan.

Courtesy of Vince Battistelli