Organisational evolution: Why are leadership transitions so important?

15th Nov, 2019

-Guest blog by Padraic Quirk of the Social Change initiative


One issue that has the potential to cause great instability amongst NGOs is in how they deal with transitioning leaders and succession planning.


Whilst some may shy away from using what they see as language from either politics or the private sector, the consequences of not thinking about leadership transition and succession planning can put at risk the very things we really care about.


The Social Change Initiative (SCI) is a Belfast based NGO whose mission is to improve the effectiveness of activism for social change, particularly amongst those working on peace building, migration and protecting human rights.


We focus on enabling organisations to evolve and grow to meet the challenges that they face and to become more sustainable.


The issues that we are helping people to work on are extremely challenging, especially in today’s very divisive world.


Bringing about progressive change has never been an easy task and it won’t happen without us paying attention to developing leaders who are resilient, courageous and determined to find ways around what might seems like constant resistance.

“The elephant in the room”


Seeing hugely effective organisations fall apart as a result of not having fully thought about succession planning or failing to have leadership transitions plans in place resulted in us partnering with  Denise Charlton – an experienced NGO leader-  to bring ‘the elephant into the room’ and to produce practical guidance to help NGOS do the necessary work.


When we, in partnership with Co3, brought civil society leaders together in Belfast earlier this year to discuss the issues raised in the report, only a few hands were raised when people were asked if they had a succession plan in place.


We would really encourage people to have a look at the insights and practical guidance that Denise provides, ranging from what boards and leadership teams should be doing through to how to communicate with and involve staff.–-A-TOOLKIT-FOR-SOCIAL-CHANGE-ACTIVISTS-AND-NON-PROFIT-ORGANISATIONS-1-1.pdf


NGOS should also be open to looking at different ways of ‘bridging the leadership gap’ through the use of things like ‘interim arrangements’  that provide space and time for organisations to really work out what they actually need.


For us, whatever way you look at it, NGOs need to be much more intentional and planned around leadership transitions.


The consequences of not thinking about it put at risk the change we seek to secure.

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