CHAPTER CRISIS: CHAPTER LEADER SUCCESSION ISSUES
Every component relations professional (CRP) has or will deal with one of these issues eventually.
VACANT LEADERSHIP POSITION(S)
It’s downright embarrassing. For a variety of reasons, the leadership ladder is empty. The outgoing president can’t stay on for another year, and other members aren’t willing to step up. Or maybe another position, like treasurer, is impossible to fill.
Another symptom of a succession problem is the same old faces—the same members cycling through officer and board positions. Along with stale leadership, you have the risk of burnout. Plus, this situation gives members the impression of a leadership club or exclusive clique.
The chapter has a president, but she seems to have vanished. You can’t get a hold of her by email or phone. If the chapter has other officers, they’re hesitant to “usurp” the position, but the clock is ticking.
UNEXPECTED DEPARTURE OF LEADER
An illness, death, personal emergency, move, or removal from office requires the chapter to find a new leader quickly. The impact of this departure depends on how much notice was given and how much access the chapter has to the former leader. Chaos could reign if other leaders need to transfer check signatories or lose access to bank accounts or software platforms.
DEALING WITH A LEADERSHIP SUCCESSION CRISIS
Once you understand the situation, craft a compelling series of emails for the chapter about the need for its members to stand up and contribute. Remind members: without them, there is no community.
If the chapter board can’t get one person to take on a leadership role, they can divide the responsibilities among themselves or another group of capable volunteers. Ask chapter directors to personally ask qualified candidates for their help.
Help the chapter conduct an emergency leadership recruitment campaign. Cast a wide net. Look for people who have leadership experience with other organizations, such as chambers, scouts, churches, and service clubs. Provide these recruits an accelerated leadership training program along with coaching support from National and past leaders of other chapters.
In the case of a missing chapter leader, maybe they’re overwhelmed by their real job or a personal crisis. Send them an email (and leave a voicemail too) expressing your concern. Can you help in any way? Can you arrange help for them? Do they need to step aside for a while or step down permanently? Let them know that together you must resolve the situation—put a deadline on it. Otherwise, you’ll have to arrange for their replacement.
If a leader has permanently departed the scene, who’s next in line? Be prepared to provide coaching and support. Don’t try to hide the situation from members. You don’t need to spill all the beans (if they’re confidential), but announce the unexpected departure and ask for their patience during the transition.
Finally, find out what’s really going on. Why isn’t there an interest in leadership? Why are the same members cycling through leadership positions? Is this a systemic issue? Is this chapter viable?
Have individual confidential conversations with past leaders as well as board directors and other volunteer leaders. Find out whether the positions are asking too much of volunteers. Assess the chapter’s leadership recruitment and development efforts.