Succeeding by nyut545e2


   It’s hard enough to be a new CEO, but it’s significantly harder
   when the former CEO was both long-tenured and beloved.
   How can you succeed when you’re constantly measured
   against such a demanding standard? | By Francie Dalton

   “Following a long-time CEO	will	require	a	certain	generosity	of	
   spirit,”	says	Kerry	C.	Stackpole,	CAE,	interim	executive	director	for	the	National	
   Association	of	Hispanic	Publications.	“The	already	difficult	role	of	CEO	is	exacer-
   bated	when	emotions	are	involved.	Intellectually,	the	parties	may	articulate	a	
   willingness	to	move	on,	but	hearts	can	remain	entangled	in	the	past.”	When	the	
   departing	leader	is	beloved	and	the	long-time	legacy	is	positive,	succession	poses	
   even	greater	risks.	
      So	stop	for	a	moment	and	take	a	deep	breath.	The	statistics	aren’t	favorable	for	
   those	who	follow	great	predecessors.	Clarify	your	thinking	about	what	you’re	tak-
   ing	on.	Although	substantive	and	useful	works	have	been	published	about	leader-
   ship	transitions—The First 90 Days	by	Michael	Watkins	and	Making a Leadership
   Change	by	Thomas	North	Gilmore	primary	among	them—none	deals	specifically	
   with	the	unique	set	of	challenges	attendant	to	succeeding	a	legend.	
      Presented	here	is	a	synthesis	of	interviews	with	eight	CEOs	who	followed	legacy	
   leaders.	They	provide	priceless	advice	for	the	three	parties	whose	behaviors	and	
   processes	will	determine	the	success	of	such	transitions:	candidates	assessing	such	
   an	opportunity,	board	members	responsible	for	stewarding	a	successful	transition	
   from	a	legacy	CEO,	and	legacy	leaders	passing	the	baton.

                                                                    	          Associations	Now				August	2008	   39
      Advice for the Successor                       Neuropsychopharmacology.	“Instead	                Believing that your functional exper-
      Candidate                                      of	craving	the	spotlight	yourself,	pub-       tise will be valued over your predeces-
      As	a	potential	successor	to	a	long-time	       licly	acknowledge	your	predecessor’s	         sor’s relationships.	Although	you	may	
      CEO,	yours	is	the	heaviest	burden	during	      strengths	early	and	frequently.”              well	be	led	to	believe	that	your	capabili-
      the	assessment	stage.	Executing	due	dili-          Believing you’ll be told about the tra-   ties	are	of	primary	importance,	those	
      gence	is	tough	enough	under	the	best	of	       ditions and rituals built by the legacy       who	follow	legends	can	be	surprised	
      circumstances.	When	succeeding	a	leg-          leader.	“You	won’t	be	told	about	these	       when	this	proves	not	to	be	the	case.	
      endary	CEO,	you’ll	need	to	intensify	your	     until	you	don’t	do	them,”	says	Stackpole.	    “You’d	better	click	through	who	is	on	
      information	gathering	and	increase	your	       “Not	necessarily	because	anyone	is	try-       the	board—what	their	interests,	beliefs,	
      vigilance	regarding	eight	faulty	beliefs	to	   ing	to	withhold	the	information,	but	         and	values	are—and	consider	carefully	
      which	you’re	particularly	vulnerable.	         because	these	customs	won’t	be	missed	        whether	you	can	actually	perform	to	
         Believing you can rely, without             until	they	aren’t	done.”                      these,”	says	Coon.	
      further scrutiny, on the information               Believing that being indisputably             Believing that key stakeholder
      provided by selected individuals or            correct will prevail over the emotion-        endorsement of your dramatically
      groups as representing the whole pic-          alism of others. Despite	the	unassail-        different style is sufficient to ensure
      ture. Take	the	initiative	to	confirm	and	      ability	of	your	ideas	for	improvements	       successful integration of your style.	
                                                                                                   Just	because	the	search	committee	or	
                                                                                                   the	executive	team	has	said	your	style	
                                                                                                   is	exactly	what’s	needed,	don’t	think	
                                                                                                   you	won’t	encounter	pockets	of	severe	
      “Expect staff to behave in ways that                                                         resistance.	Considerable	behavioral	edit-
                                                                                                   ing	may	be	necessary	initially,	as	people	
      reveal their insecurity, their grief, and                                                    adjust	to	the	transition	in	styles.	Lynn	
      their feelings of abandonment relative to                                                    Nicholas,	FACHE,	president	and	CEO	of	
                                                                                                   the	Massachusetts	Hospital	Association,	
      your predecessor.” — R O B E R T T . V A N H O O K , C A E                                   warns,	“Recognize	the	enormous	impor-
                                                                                                   tance	of	how	much	people	will	miss	the	
                                                                                                   familiar	culture	and	the	personal	rela-
                                                                                                   tionship	built	over	a	long	period	of	time	
      expand	what	has	been	shared,	and	get	          in	policies,	procedures,	structure,	and	so	   with	a	legacy	leader.”
      as	much	information	as	possible	from	          forth,	imposing	these	changes	will	be	            Believing you’re obligated to agree
      as	many	sources	as	possible.	In	ferret-        interpreted	as	a	criticism	of—even	a	dis-     to a protracted period of continued, con-
      ing	out	this	information,	be	alert	to	         honoring	of—your	predecessor.	Instead,	       spicuous involvement by your prede-
      what	isn’t	said,	to	responses	that	seem	       create	opportunities	for	staff	to	conceive	   cessor. It’s	crucial	to	elicit	exactly	what	
      to	skirt	your	questions,	and	to	the	types	     and	implement	needed	changes.	                the	board	expects	from	your	predecessor	
      of	information	you	had	to	struggle	to	            Believing you should prioritize the        and	how	they’ll	assess	performance.	
      elicit.	Deductive	and	inductive	reasoning	     early demonstration of your own value         Equally	important	is	to	help	them	articu-
      will	be	required	on	a	near	moment-by-          over the need to stabilize relationships.     late	specifically	how	the	role	of	your	pre-
      moment	basis	to	reveal	the	implications	       Says	Robert	T.	Van	Hook,	CAE,	president	      decessor	will	integrate	with	your	own.	
      of	what	you	aren’t	hearing.	                   of	Transition	Management	Consulting,	         Probe	to	uncover	the	underlying	reasons	
          Believing that discussion about the        Inc.,	“Expect	staff	to	behave	in	ways	that	   for	wanting	to	continue	to	engage	your	
      legacy leader’s success would be inap-         reveal	their	insecurity,	their	grief,	and	    predecessor;	this	will	equip	you	to	iden-
      propriate. Key	stakeholders	may	not	           their	feelings	of	abandonment	relative	to	    tify	alternatives	for	achieving	their	real	
      want	to	be	specific	with	you	about	the	        your	predecessor.”	Rather	than	rushing	       objectives	in	ways	that	don’t	hobble	the	
      factors	that	contributed	to	your	pre-          to	make	your	mark	on	the	organization,	       transition.	
      decessor’s	long	tenure.	Tease	out	what	        repeatedly	and	specifically	acknowl-
      made	her	tenure	endure,	the	strengths	         edge	all	that	is	right,	all	that	has	been	    Advice for Board Members
      and	weaknesses	of	the	legacy	leader,	and	      done	well,	and	the	challenges	that	have	      For	board	members,	one	piece	of	advice	
      with	whom	she	had	the	deepest	ties	and	        been	overcome.	“Instead	of	trying	to	         comes	before	all	others:	Stop	enshrining	
      what	the	critics	complained	about.	“Pay	       displace	the	legend,	smart	leaders	realize	   the	legendary	leader.	No	matter	how	
      special	attention	to	what	was	appreci-         the	need	to	focus	on	pulling	key	stake-       benign	and	honorable	your	intentions,	
      ated	about	your	predecessor,”	advises	         holders	together,”	says	Richard	Coon,	        your	responsibility	to	the	new	leader	is	
      Ronnie	Wilkins,	Ed.D.,	CAE,	executive	         executive	director	of	the	RV	Industry	        incalculably	more	important	than	con-
      director	of	the	American	College	of	           Association.	                                 tinued	demonstrations	of	affection	and	

40	   Associations	Now				August	2008
recognition	toward	the	former	leader.	         tendency	for	staff	to	prefer	the	counsel,	      leadership	to	ensure	such	unity—or	the	
    Keeping	the	legacy	CEO	on	board	           advice,	and	consulting	of	their	legacy	         consequence	will	be	a	failed	transition.	
in	any	post-transition	capacity	puts	          leader.	Inadvertently,	just	by	participat-      “Take	the	time	to	get	it	right	up	front,”	
the	new	leader	in	an	impossible	posi-          ing	in	conversations	about	how	much	            says	Karen	Tucker	Thomas,	CAE,	presi-
tion.	And	please	note:	Getting	the	new	        the	legacy	leader	is	missed,	board	mem-         dent	of	KST	Consulting.	“Put	the	neces-
leader	to	agree	to	it	does	not	nullify	        bers	can	perpetuate	these	tendencies,	          sary	attention	and	resources	toward	
your	responsibility	to	end	the	legacy	         protracting	the	period	of	ambiguity	and	        success—because	the	alternative	is	so	
CEO’s	role.	True,	it’s	sometimes	appro-        ultimately	destabilizing	the	new	leader.	       painful.”	
priate	to	craft	a	dual-leader	transition	          Board	members	must	understand	
period	where	the	new	leader	shadows	           that	merely	deflecting	such	conversa-           Advice for Legacy Leaders
the	predecessor.	This	can	effectively	         tions	is	not	sufficient.	Instead,	there	        As	a	legacy	leader,	do	you	really	want	to	
inaugurate	relationships	and	ease	the	         must	be	overt,	explicit,	iterative	favor	       put	your	board	in	the	position	of	having	
transfer	of	responsibility.	However,	this	     shown	toward	the	new	leader	by	the	             to	follow	the	above	advice?	Do	you	want	
period	should	be	as	brief	as	possible,	and	    board.	It	is	the	responsibility	of	each	        to	put	the	onus	on	them	to	do	the	right	
the	end	point	must	be	clearly	defined	         individual	board	member	and	the	board	          thing—or	do	you	want	to	initiate	this	
and	adhered	to	absolutely.	And	once	           as	an	entity	to	actively	redirect	the	          necessary	process	yourself?
the	transition	plan	is	complete,	no	con-       staff’s	emotional	commitment	toward	                The	one	who	should	step	up	here	is	
tracts,	no	board	seats,	and	no	peripheral	     the	new	CEO.	“Even	if	there	isn’t	com-          you.	Help	design	the	search	and	selection	
engagements.                                   plete	agreement	with	the	initiatives	of	        process	if	you	like,	but	do	not	engage	in	
    While	the	work	of	associations	often	      the	new	CEO,	board	member	cooperation	          the	execution	of	that	process.	Once	your	
creates	strong	and	enduring	friendships,	      is	vital,”	says	Coon.                           successor	is	on	board,	have	the	class,	
the	maintenance	of	your	personal	rela-             Board	chairs	and	the	executive	com-         wisdom,	and	selflessness	to	establish	
tionship	with	the	former	CEO	should	           mittee	have	an	even	higher	level	of	            and	adhere	to	a	transition	process	that	
occur	outside	of	the	organization.	Find	       responsibility.	Vigilance	and	effort	will	      doesn’t	detract	from	the	new	CEO.	Here’s	
other	venues	in	which	to	interact,	other	      be	required	to	quell	the	complaints	of	         a	great	template	to	follow	once	the	tran-
organizations	through	which	honors	can	        predecessor	devotees,	to	rein	in	errant	        sition	period	is	over:
be	bestowed,	and	other	opportunities	          board	members,	and	to	manage	the	               n	 Agree	to	serve	as	a	resource	for	a	

to	continue	the	relationship—but	stop	         vocal	minority.	But	it	is	essential	that	the	       specified	period	of	time,	but	only	
maintaining	a	connection	with	the	lega-        board	forms	a	united	front	and	stands	              through	the	new	CEO	and	never	
cy	leader	in	ways	that	are	visible	to	staff.   fully	and	consistently	behind	the	new	              onsite.	The	duration	of	your	acces-
    Even	occasionally	engaging	the	leg-        CEO.	Board	leaders	must	exert	sufficient	           sibility	doesn’t	matter,	as	long	as	you	
endary	leader	in	positions	of	authority	
or	influence	will	seriously	and	inevita-         Words of Wisdom
bly	undercut	the	new	CEO.	Including	                “Don’t get into a tug of war with a ghost. It’s not about whether you’ll be equally beloved;
the	past	CEO	in	functions,	whether	              it’s about whether you can lead.”—Robert T. Van Hook, CAE, president, Transition Management
onsite	or	offsite,	perpetuates	the	past	         Consulting, Inc.
in	a	way	that	at	best	holds	up	and	at	              “Understand clearly why your predecessor was successful. Then decide if complementary
worst	impedes	the	stabilization	of	new	          talents are within your skill set.”—Lynn Nicholas, FACHE, president and CEO, Massachusetts
leadership.	Equally	important,	maintain-         Hospital Association
ing	linkage	with	the	legendary	leader	              “Tenacity will override an awful lot.”—Kerry C. Stackpole, CAE, interim executive director for
implies	consent	for,	and	indeed	encour-          the National Association of Hispanic Publications
ages,	end	runs	by	disgruntled	staff,	the	           “If something doesn’t feel right to you, trust your gut and keep probing.”—Karen Tucker
continued	use	of	the	past	leader	as	a	key	       Thomas, CAE, president, KST Consulting
input	to	decision	making,	and	covert	               “Remember: You didn’t just parachute out of the sky. The board chose you for a reason.
information	sharing.                             Be confident about your ability to lead.”—David Patt, CAE, executive director, Association of
    Because	ambiguity	in	leadership	is	          Running Event Directors and president of Association Executive Management
disconcerting	to	all	concerned,	boards	             “Be true to yourself. Be your own person. Following the legend doesn’t mean being like the
tend	to	accelerate	filling	a	vacant	CEO	         legend.”—Richard Coon, executive director, RV Industry Association
position.	The	focus	on	finding	the	right	           “Love the mission; love the organization; love the job. This will go a long way toward taking
person	for	the	job	can	be	so	intense	that	       the edge off of anything negative.”—Ronnie Wilkins, Ed.D., CAE, executive director, American
post-installation	stabilization	never	           College of Neuropsychopharmacology
becomes	part	of	the	plan.	Here’s	why	               “Let the irritant produce the pearl.”—Cheryl Kreider Carey, CAE, executive director, American
that	presents	a	significant	vulnerability.	      Academy of Audiology
    There	is	a	natural,	understandable	

                                                                                               	          Associations	Now				August	2008	           43
         are	no	longer	visible	to	staff.                When	board	members	are	being	                Next,	stay	involved	in	constructive	
      n	 State	explicitly	that	you	will	not	        conspicuously	unsupportive,	consider	         initiatives;	identify	what	you	see	as	
         make	further	appearances	on	behalf	        one-on-one	conversations.	Be	transpar-        the	most	meaningful	work	of	the	orga-
         of	the	organization,	and	adhere	to	this	   ent	about	what’s	not	working	and	be	          nization	and	engage	in	these	efforts.	
         commitment	no	matter	what.	                explicit	about	behaviors	that	must	be	        Consistently	strive	to	incorporate	work	
      n	 Be	completely	transparent	with	the	        in	evidence	moving	forward.	“Don’t	           projects	on	which	you	can	succeed.	
         new	CEO—and	completely	invisible	          make	the	board	or	your	predecessor	              Finally,	“Don’t	focus	on	your	prede-
         to	the	organization.	                      the	subject.	Get	this	off	the	table,”	says	   cessor.	That’s	history,	and	it	is	what	it	is,”	
                                                    David	Patt,	CAE,	executive	director	of	the	   says	Wilkins.	“Focus	on	the	future,	not	
      Advice for Those in Purgatory                 Association	of	Running	Event	Directors	       on	the	past.”	 an
      Have	you	succeeded	a	legacy	leader	           and	president	of	Association	Executive	
      recently,	only	to	discover	that               Management.	“Instead,	put	the	business	       Francie Dalton is founder and president
      n	 Secret	phone	calls	and	meetings	are	       issues	on	the	table	and	get	attention	        of Dalton Alliances, Inc., a business con-
          occurring	between	your	predecessor	       focused	on	these.”	                           sultancy specializing in the behavioral,
          and	your	staff?                               Also	important,	emphasizes	the	           management, and communications sci-
      n	 Your	decisions	are	being	blocked	by	       American	College	of	Neuropsycho-              ences. Dalton is the author of Versatility:	
          an	influence-wielding	predecessor?        pharmacology’s	Wilkins,	is	the	need	to	       How	to	Optimize	Interactions	When	
      n	 You’re	perpetually	in	the	shadow	          “collect	and	use	good,	hard	data	to	sup-      7	Workplace	Behaviors	Are	at	Their	
          of	your	predecessor	at	significant	       port	your	decisions.	This	makes	it	easier	    Worst, which will be published by ASAE
          events?                                   to	get	buy-in	from	your	board.”               & The Center later this month and avail-
      n	 You’re	unable	to	establish	relation-           With	senior	staff,	one-on-one	con-        able at
          ships	with	your	direct	reports,	whose	    versations	can	be	remedial.	Be	explicit	
          continued	loyalty	is	being	actively	      about	the	behaviors	that	you’ve	noticed,	
          courted	by	your	predecessor?              and	as	above,	be	explicit	about	the	
      n	 Staff	are	complaining	to	the	board	        behaviors	that	must	be	in	evidence	mov-
          about	you	and	threatening	to	leave?	      ing	forward.	You	might	also	consider	a	
      n	 Multiple	stakeholders	are	imply-           facilitated	team-building	retreat,	per-
          ing	you	should	be	more	like	your	         haps	augmented	by	the	use	of	behav-
          predecessor?                              ioral	assessments.
      n	 Well-placed	sources	are	telling	you	           If	you	realize	that	your	worst	enemy	
          your	continued	tenure	is	in	jeopardy?	    is	you,	don’t	wait	to	get	help.	Indeed,	
          These	can	be	gut-wrenching,	spirit-       if	you	wait	until	you	actually	need	
      crushing,	heart-rending	experiences—          the	help,	it	may	be	too	late.	Consider	
      unless	you	steel	yourself	against	the	        retaining	an	executive	coach.	“Reach	
      emotional	trauma.	                            out	to	family	and	friends	or	to	a	more	
          You	can	get	through	it	with	your	self	    experienced	association	CEO	in	a	differ-
      esteem	intact	if	you	follow	the	advice	       ent	industry,”	advises	Thomas	of	KST	
      collected	from	those	who	have	been	           Consulting.	“Their	support	is	crucial	
      through	it,	have	coached	others	through	      at	this	stage.”	If	you’ve	been	on	board	
      it,	or	have	watched	others	successfully	      at	least	six	months,	consider	the	use	
      move	through	it.	                             of	a	360	degree	feedback	process	or	an	
          First	and	foremost,	act	to	prevent	the	   employee	survey.	“It’s	not	about	wheth-
      situation	from	worsening.	Don’t	assume	       er	we	think	we’re	good	leaders,”	says	
      everything	will	just	work	itself	out.	You	    Cheryl	Kreider	Carey,	CAE,	executive	
      must	confront	the	causal	factors	and	         director	of	the	American	Academy	of	
      take	action	to	neutralize	them.	              Audiology.	“This	can	only	be	measured	
          If	you’re	dealing	with	an	intrusive	      by	those	we	lead.”	
      predecessor,	have	a	frank	conversation	           Perhaps	even	more	important	is	that	
      that	produces	an	agreement	to	halt	           you	take	deliberate	steps	to	strengthen	
      divisive	behavior.	If	the	agreement	is	       your	emotional	endurance.	Helpful	here	
      subsequently	violated,	consider	a	follow-     will	be	doing	your	job	and	doing	it	well.	     Review and comment on this
      up	conversation	that	includes	your	           Be	crystal	clear	about	board	priorities	       article at
      board	chair	and	produces	a	more	formal	       and	demonstrate	measurable	progress	           associationsnow.
      agreement.                                    on	each.	

44	   Associations	Now				August	2008

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