5 linked processes for board leadership

Bridgespan has found that many nonprofit leaders, including boards, confront the question of leadership development only when faced with a succession crisis.

In addition to a survey of 225 nonprofit leaders, Bridgespan has published “Plan A: How Successful Nonprofits Develop Their Future Leaders,” a three-year strategy that originated with American Express CEO Ken Chenault.

Plan A is created and executed through five linked processes:

  • Engaging senior leaders. Most respondents to the Bridgespan survey reported that the CEO is actively engaged in building a strong pipeline of leadership candidates, but a majority also say that senior leaders aren’t held accountable for their efforts.
  • Mapping out a vision of the future leadership team. A systematic development effort starts with an understanding of the leadership capabilities required to achieve the organization’s strategy.
  • Developing future leaders. Leaders develop primarily through well-designed, on-the-job experiences. Research shows that the most effective leadership development involved 70 percent on-the-job learning, 20 percent help from coaches and mentors, and 10 percent formal training.
  • Seeking new talent to fill gaps. Even the best-prepared organization can’t always fulfill its aims through internal promotions alone. Organizations are relatively strong in external hiring, but hiring new leaders who fit an organization’s needs is just the first step.
  • Monitoring and improving the process of developing leaders. Successful nonprofits gather data to ensure that they are doing what they set out to do, making progress toward their Plan A goals, and continuously adjusting their approaches to incorporate lessons they learn.