I can’t remember a time when so many of our member organizations were approaching or were in the midst of an executive search. I’m keeping a running list on a slip of paper on my desk: So far it has the names of 16 CEOs who have publicly announced or privately let me know that their time at the mission or ministry they have been leading has come or will soon be coming to an end. And my guess is that there are probably twice that many who are thinking about it but who haven’t said anything yet.
Since our Annual Conference and Exposition, I’ve spoken with representatives of five different search firms that have been retained by mission or kindred ministry boards to look for new leadership. (Usually, the first thing they want is names of potential candidates; I insist on talking about four critical things their client needs to do before they start looking at people.)
Why are these transitions happening? It’s a combination of inevitable reasons (e.g., age, fatigue, new opportunity) and preventable reasons (e.g., board-CEO misalignment, financial setbacks, fear). It’s all the normal stuff. Unfortunately, a lot of these transitions are happening simultaneously.
But here’s the bigger issue: There is not a plethora of qualified people in our circles waiting in the wings for one of our member CEO’s chairs to open up. Running a Christian nonprofit that serves dependent, disturbed, and desperate people 24/7 is difficult to begin with. Throw in escalating board expectations, fundraising strains, government regulations, community tensions, cultural changes affecting Bible-based charities, and pay scale disparity, and you begin to see why there might be a talent void.
Many of the young people who start at a member mission or ministry and show promise as a future leader disappear within five years for very different ventures. We have to be more intentional about getting superstars to stick. Many of the tiffs that produce continuous tension between the board and a CEO could be avoided with proper understanding of roles and healthier communications. We have to make board-CEO training and development a priority.
Many boards looking for their next leader purposely want to recruit outside of our ministry genre. We have to work harder to develop staff with the breadth of experience that boards think future leaders need.
Share with me what you’re doing to make these things happen at your place. I’ll pass on your formulas for success to your peers in another publication.
Action steps: 1. If you have someone on your team who has the experience and maturity to be a CEO but is not destined for the corner office anytime soon, consider how his or her career could bloom and Kingdom work might be accelerated if you blessed his or her departure to a bigger role. 2. Consider taking advantage of Citygate Network’s Ripple Effect program for boards. Every mission or ministry that has gone through it has proclaimed its benefits. 3. Citygate Network is looking at developing a program with internships for aspiring CEOs. Let us know if something about that piques your interest. We’re open to any and all comments.