Leadership Succession is Like Leaving the Dinner Table… No One Should Walk Away and Leave a Mess
When I was a kid my Mom and Dad both worked. Dad ran marketing for a forms printing company. Mom was a teacher. Every evening Mom came home from school and cooked dinner. Mom, Dad, my two sisters and I all ate dinner together every evening. Dinner was not over until the table was cleared and the dishes were washed, dried, and stored away. My sisters and I were responsible for the cleanup. Old habits are hard to break – I don’t cook much, but I still help clear, wash, and store everything away after dinner. I think that is the way it should be.
Rumor has it that over half of credit union CEOs will retire in the next 10 years. On average, a credit union is lost in a merger every day. One of the leading reasons credit unions merge is loss of leadership. To me, leadership continuity is like leaving the dinner table. No CEO should leave the post without making sure that everything is in order. Every Board should make sure that there is someone, or at least a formal process in place, to insure leadership continuity.
So, why does the credit union industry have a problem with leadership abandonment? Perhaps it is because leadership continuity does not happen by accident. I have heard credit union CEOs lament that building talent is a revolving door. It is true, not all emerging leaders choose to stay. They become impatient about the timing of opportunities, family pressures dictate a change, they decide that they are not cut out for the tasks at hand, or perhaps the mentoring and coaching they are receiving is not adequate to fuel their ambitions. Some things are out of a leader’s control. Some things are the leader’s responsibility.
I’m puzzled by leadership abandonment. I have held leadership positions and I am absolutely sure that some of my leadership skills are shaky. But, looking back, I can truthfully say that the most rewarding thing in my career has been watching young people mature and become leaders in their own right. Hopefully, a few of them learned something from me, perhaps something I did right that they chose to replicate, or perhaps something I did wrong that they pledged to never do themselves. I hope I was fair. I hope I was not a barrier to their future success. I hope in some way I helped them on their journey. I don’t get leaders who don’t get that.
Leadership succession is not something that happens six months before a vacancy. Succession is something that leaders should worry about every day, regardless of their career stage or position. Leaders should always be looking toward developing talent to backfill their position, whether the position is opened by the leader’s next career choice or retirement. In credit unions, that goes for all staff and volunteer leadership positions.
There are tools to help with leadership continuity; managerial skills and leadership training, and methodologies for creating and maintaining formal succession plans.
Don’t leave dirty dishes on your table when you leave your post. Credit Union Resources’ OnBalance team is here to help. Feel free to contact me, Karen Houston-Johnson or Howard Bufe.