Stepping In and Out with Grace and Style: Tips for Transitioning to a New Leadership Regime
By Dustin K. Hunter
Dustin K. Hunter is a name partner of the law firm of Kraft & Hunter, LLP in Roswell, New Mexico.
Planning for the end of a leadership year could be one of the most important aspects of an outgoing leader’s term. That is because from the first day on the job, the position as a leader of the affiliate organization was destined to come to an end. When it does, the organization will still be there. It is the job of the outgoing leader to make sure that it is left in good hands and is better on the day he or she leaves than on the day that he or she took over. It is also the job of the incoming leader to ensure that the mission of the organization is picked up and continued.
Leaders often think about how to drive their organizations forward but do not always spend enough time thinking about the right way to transition after their term is over so that it does not take a step backward. See Andre Mamprin, Next in Line: Five Steps for Successful Succession Planning , Executive Update (Dec. 2002). Just as a relay team hands off a baton, so outgoing officers need to officially and efficiently hand off responsibility to their successors. See Saul Carliner, Six Steps to an Effective Board Transition, available at .
Succession planning—the planning and preparation to replace one leader with another—is essential to the transition of any leadership regime. With proper planning and hands-on training, you can ensure that the organization you cared enough about to spend years serving and leading continues to succeed well after you are gone.
Create a Centralized Information Hub
Whether you choose to create an electronic or physical binder, the outgoing leader should assemble key information that the new leader can reference when he or she has a question.
Things that are useful to include are (1) a list of tasks that must be accomplished during the term, (2) a timeline of important dates and deadlines, (3) detailed explanations and information regarding events to which the organization has committed, (4) procedures for accomplishing any of the tasks and obligations of the organization, (5) an index of contacts for the organization, its projects, and commitments, and (6) any personal advice or suggestions that the outgoing leader believes would be helpful to the successor. See Carliner, Six Steps to an Effective Board Transition . The key is to provide the essential information to successfully run the organization, including important historical knowledge.
For instance, participation in American Bar Association Young Lawyers Association (ABA YLD) events and activities requires compliance with certain policies, procedures, and timetables. Without a transition plan in place, there is a good chance that these dates and obligations will go unnoticed and that the incoming leader will miss opportunities. This might cause a disconnect between your affiliate organization and the ABA YLD that could hurt your affiliate because it does not have access to all of the resources that the ABA YLD provides for the young lawyers you serve.
Introduce Your Successor to Others
Contacts make volunteer organizations, like your affiliate, run. “One of the things that was done for me and which I did in return for my successor was to make personal introductions to those who have dealings with our organization—whether it be other affiliates, ABA YLD members, members of the community, or even other young lawyers who have helped out in the past,” says Roxanna Chacon, former chair of the ABA YLD’s Public Service and National Conferences Team and former Chair of the New Mexico State Bar Young Lawyers Division.
It is also important to update your organization’s official contact information with bar organizations, affiliate organizations, contacts for projects, and the ABA YLD. Each year, some affiliates lose contact with the ABA YLD because their contact information wasn’t updated and the ABA YLD’s information isn’t getting where it needs to go. Providing detailed contact information to the ABA YLD for your new board is the outgoing leader’s responsibility and obligation. You can update your information at
Provide Before the Job Training
Ideally, the incoming leader will work with the outgoing leader for a period of time before taking office. Many organizations have in place a multi-year leadership transition through which leaders are chosen several years in advance and work their way through the organizations as officers. For instance, in New Mexico, leaders serve as chair-elect before serving as chair of the YLD. In this way, the new leader is able to serve an entire year while watching and learning from the current chair. The purpose of this position is to train the incoming leader until the day that he or she assumes primary responsibility for the organization. See Andre Mamprin, Next in Line: Five Steps for Successful Succession Planning , Executive Update (Dec. 2002). According to Briana Zamora, Chair-Elect of the New Mexico YLD, “As the Chair-Elect, I take every opportunity to participate in meetings, activities, and events in which the YLD is involved. I view this year as important because of the training I am receiving and the contacts and information I have gained.”
Keep the Past Leaders
Throughout the process and once the transition is complete, you need to ensure that you have the assistance of the immediate past chair. Many organizations have an immediate past chair as an official position for this very reason. The counsel of your predecessors is invaluable. It is a great source of knowledge and information. Often times, the past leader is the only person who knows why or how something was done in your organization. Past leaders also have important insights into political and social issues that may have had an effect on the organization in the past. For example, says Chacon, “During my term in office, I relied heavily upon the immediate past chair, as well as past chairs from the previous several years. Their institutional knowledge and personal advice was a great resource that I turned to frequently. Much of what I accomplished during my tenure would have been much more difficult had I not been privy to their advice.”
If your organization does not have an official past chair or past president position, create one. “The role of someone acting in the capacity of the Past Chair is so important that even if your organization does not have an official position, I would informally establish an advisory board comprising the past chairs of the last several years,” advises Chacon.
As far as implementing the role of an informal advisory committee, you might consider developing a special e-mail list so that you can quickly e-mail important questions to your committee and obtain quick responses. See Jeffrey Cufaude, Volunteer Management: Don’t Cut the String, Tie a New Knot , Executive Update, (July 2004), available at . Of course, for their advice to be useful and timely, you must make sure that you are updating them on relevant developments during your leadership term. You never know, you might receive just the advice you need, unsolicited, from a former leader who spots a problem on the horizon.