Brian Cavanagh CONSULTING

Leadership Lessons – The Value of Openness

How do you hold onto good leaders? There is a shelf life for every leader. And good leaders know theirs. Yet moving on may not be the best answer for them or their organisation. Is there another approach?

Let me explain. A CEO, whom I know, had held the position for some time. She had brought the organisation through a difficult financial time that involved complex restructuring. As result of these changes, it began to grow consistently. However, one of the consequences of these changes was the CEO felt that her role had become much more operational than she liked. She preferred to work at a more strategic level. Although still passionately committed to mission of the organisation, she didn’t want to be an operational type CEO. As such, she was reluctantly inclined to look for another role.

On hearing that the CEO was thinking of moving on, the board was shocked. Not only had they not considered that the she might want to move on, had no succession plan for such an eventuality.

After facilitating a discussion between the Chair and the CEO, it became clear that the CEO wanted to be more stretched in her role. In particular, she wanted a greater emphasis on ambassadorial and strategic leadership, an area she enjoyed and previously excelled in. The CEO also wanted to use her expertise in the field of public health to raise the profile of the organisation.

As a result of the facilitated discussions, the board realised it needed to do something to retain the CEO. It reviewed the nature of the role and reshaped it, shifting some of the responsibilities to an operations manager to free up time for the CEO to focus on more strategic matters. It was also suggested that the CEO seek a public appointment to an NHS Board to which she was successful.

The openness and willingness of the Board to look creatively at how to retain a valued leader has paid dividends for both the CEO and the organisation. The organisation has developed a succession planning process that supports the professional and personal ambitions of its staff.

And the organisation has a reinvigorated, driven, and focused CEO that works in what Gary Hendrix calls her “zone of genius”.