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9 ways to be ready for an unplanned CEO absence

Usually the departure of a leader from a nonprofit is planned well advance of the actual departure. Occasionally, however, a leader can leave unexpectedly, either for a short while or permanently.

In their book “When Leaders Leave” Priscilla Rosenwald and Lesley Mallow Wendell offer suggestions for an organization that experiences a temporary, unplanned absence. They recommend that the organizational leaders be able to answer the following questions:

  •  How does the organization define a temporary absence?
  • Which board committee(s) will manage the emergency succession process?
  • Who is designated to assume leadership in the absence of the chief executive? What authority will the person have?
  • What process will be used to contact and inform staff when an unplanned absence occurs?
  • Who will communicate with stakeholders? When and how?
  • How will staff engage in managing in the absence of the chief executive?
  • Who on the board will provide oversight to the individual(s) tasked with leading the organization in the absence of the chief executive?
  • What process will be put in place to re-integrate the chief executive into the organization WHEN s/he is ready to return?
  • If a temporary absence continues longer than anticipated, what adjustments to the initial process or plan will need to occur? Who will take responsibility to manage that process?


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