Leadership Transitions

February 21, 2024In Liberatory LeadershipBy

This month, my family and I celebrated Tết (others may call this Lunar New Year, Chinese New Year, LuniSolar New Year). For Vietnamese folx, the celebrations might run from 3-7 days. Other cultures may celebrate for weeks. This is because this holiday is about seasons in transition, and that takes time.

I’ll add that this is not just any seasonal shift – it is winter moving to spring. It is inspiring to witness, emotional to experience, and transformational. Work that includes big doses of rest and releasing stored energy has been happening underground, waiting for this moment. Our culture symbolizes this by displaying peach and apricot branches while still barren, and we swoon over them as they bloom with brilliant pink and yellow hues over the days preceding and following Tết. 

Transitions are aplenty in our movements right now. Many are shifting towards more audacious strategies to align with your deep-seated values of community, justice, healing, and care. More are practicing shared and distributed leadership. There are up to four or more generations working together now. 

Leadership transitions are among these transformative opportunities and often inform the radical shifts mentioned above. For the past few years, LLC has had the pleasure and privilege of undergoing our own leadership transitions as well as learning from others who have walked this journey with deep care and reflection. Out of this study with others and within, we’ve supported these reports (Making, (Or Taking) Space,  Brilliant Transformation: Towards Toward Full Flourishing in BIPOC Leadership Transitions ) and written these reflections (The Next 20 Years, Introducing Nikki Dinh – LLC’s New Co-Executive Director!Entering a Co-Directorship, Nikki & Ericka’s Spell for Conscious Executive Director Relationship Building, Exploring Liberatory Leadership: Director-Level Insights into the Journey of Distributed Leadership, Collective Leadership in Action).

This year, we are releasing two more learning memos in collaboration with the Hewlett Education Cohort Learning Circle leaders on leadership transitions, who have spent over a year together understanding, discussing, and working through transitions. We are proud to present them here. One final learning memo will be published in the following weeks.

TL: DR? Leadership transitions are inspiring, emotional, and transformational. They do not stop at hiring a person of this or that quality that represents equity to you. They continue with the retention of that person and will continue as natural organizational transitions follow. Because each leadership transition is unique, it will require adaptive solutions that take time to explore and practice. Perhaps there is a bit of wintering and slowing down before spring. Lastly, wins in transitions need to be highlighted and celebrated more explicitly at every opportunity so we can normalize the complexity of these transitions. 

My takeaways are: 

  • If you’re a leader who’s one or forty years in your role, talk about succession planning. 
  • If you’re a new leader, the dominant narrative might make you feel like you should just pop into this position, and it will run as it has been run before. Instead, you might proactively name challenges and opportunities you’re seeing from your fresh perspective early and often. 
  • Staff often experience whiplash in the transition process. Take good care of them and each other. 
  • If you’re a board member, you could explicitly nurture spaces of change and transformation for the new leader and organization (i.e., you should manage the risks clearly and understand your comfort with risk-taking). 
  • As funders, you must invest in transitions if you want to set future generations up for success. Organizations need time, space, and care to shift successfully.

If you’re going through a leadership transition, I hope you find affirmations and inspiration in these materials. If you have learnings you’d like to share. Please reach out to us.

All, I am wishing us the creativity, humility, and power of this new year’s wood dragon.