The issue of leaders leaving legacies

The departure of an organization’s founder or a chief executive who has become strongly identified with the organization or even the mission can be a traumatic one for any nonprofit. Even now, many organizations are facing the prospect of losing individuals who have provided leadership for a long time.

In their book “When Leaders Leave” Priscilla Rosenwald and Lesley Mallow Wendell that one way of preparing to find a replacement for a long-term leader is to think about the legacy that leader has provided. Whether aware of it or not, leaders do create such legacies, and people within an organization usually will have opinions about what that legacy was, and those opinions can form a discussion about a replacement.

Rosenwald and Wendell suggest that an organization can initiate a discussion about the leader’s contribution by asking the following questions:

  • Is the legacy of the founder/leader a personal legacy, an organizational legacy or both?
  • How can these legacies be mutually inclusive?
  • What kind of organization does the founder/leader want to leave behind?
  • For what does the person want to be remembered?
  • What is the impact the person wanted to achieve? Was it for the person’s own personal sense of accomplishment or for others?