Of course, as a child, every want to me felt like a need …until I moved out on my own. Becoming an adult required me to manage my own budget. Over time, I’ve learned to live out this depression-era lesson.
So, what does this have to do with executive recruiting? Everything! What you want in your new leader and what you need may be two different things.
Understanding Needs vs Wants
When an organization experiences an executive transition, the natural tendency is to want to hire quickly to replace the outgoing leader. A natural inclination is also to hire for the skills and characteristics of what you already had in your last ED (Executive Director). That’s what you want because it’s quick and a known quality to you. But are those previous skills and characteristics what you need at this juncture of your organization’s lifecycle, or do you need other skills in your next leader to achieve what you want for the community you serve? All organizations go through lifecycles that influence their vision and impact – from start-up to teen years to adult years to maturity to reflection (and sometimes back to start-up again). Where you are in your lifecycle and where you want to go will guide the type of leadership skills and qualities you need to advance your mission towards attaining your vision.
How to Balance Needs & Wants
As a Board, how do you ensure you are balancing needs and wants when hiring your next ED? You won’t always be able to get everything you want. But, if you take the time to pause, reflect, and identify the leadership skills and attributes required to achieve your goals, you may just get the next ED you really need.
Take the time to Pause
Whether the ED departure is planned or unplanned, take a pause when you learn your leader is leaving. I’ve seen many boards immediately dust off the old job description and jump into a search. As tempting as it is, the Board should determine if they need to update the job description by asking itself questions like, “When was the last time we even looked at the ED job position description?” and “Does the language being used about the organization, goals, wages, and responsibilities still apply?”. If the new ED follows a long-standing ED/CEO or Founder, it’s even more important to pause for enough time to update the verbiage. The Founder job description (if there is one) may have been written at a time when the organization was a one- or two-person operation. Things have almost certainly changed over the years and the organization’s needs for its next leader have likely changed significantly as a result.
Another important consideration when it’s been a long time since a leadership transition is to review the relationship between the ED and the Board. Review your bylaws and ensure it articulates where the ED’s responsibilities end, and the Board’s responsibilities begin. This will set both the new ED and their Board up for success in the transition.
Reflect on Organizational Goals
In your pausing, reflect on organizational strategy and goals. What do you need in your next leader to get what you want to achieve as an organization? Which skills, attributes, characteristics do you believe are required to advance the mission and strategy towards attaining vision. If you don’t have a strategic plan, do you need someone who can bring the skills to work alongside the Board and Staff to develop and execute vision?
Be realistic with your wants and needs throughout the process. Remember, there is no perfect in this let alone a “perfect person” who will check every box on the skill, attribute, and characteristic list. Understanding the type of abilities that are needed and desired may temper the tendency to create a position profile that can only be filled by a unicorn so that you can stop looking for the perfect candidate.
Use the Experts
Lastly, and I would be remiss not to mention this, it’s important to seek professional search services to facilitate and lead your search. There are many other steps than the those I’ve described above that go into an executive search. You are a Board of passionate volunteers who have day jobs with limited time to take on a search that involves a myriad of details, people, and project management tasks. Professional search services offer all the qualities that support a robust and successful hiring process, including:
When you need nonprofit executive search services, we can help! Whether the loss of your Executive Director is planned or unexpected, we can help you find your next leader. Our team of nonprofit recruiters will work to understand your organization’s culture and mission so that we can find the right match for your needs and vision. Contact us to find out more today!
About the Author
Liz Swanson – Senior Associate, Valtas
Liz is a nonprofit professional, consultant, leader, and educator who has been serving and advancing mission-driven organizations for over 30 years. Her experiences as an Executive Director, Interim Executive Director, Development Director, Board President, and Non-Profit Consultant at a wide range of nonprofits has given her a unique perspective of the ins and outs of organizations and the challenges nonprofit leaders face.
Liz is passionate about all things nonprofit and helping organizations achieve their goals towards long-term success. Being optimistic, inquisitive, and trustworthy are part of her DNA. With business know-how, integrity, a steady style, and sensing ability, Liz takes a highly collaborative approach in partnering to help guide organizational development and build leadership capacity during times of change, transition, and growth.
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