Succession Planning: Is Your CEO Thriving or Just Surviving?

By John Pearson

Note: This is the third of 11 blogs featuring practical wisdom from the new ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 4: Succession Planning. Free to ECFA members, you can download the resource and video by clicking here.

Dr. Richard Swenson suggests you deactivate your home answering machine, or record this message: “Please wait for the beep and hang up.”

He says we need more margin (and less phone interruptions) in our lives. He defines “marginless” in his must-read classic, Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives.

Marginless is fatigue; margin is energy.

Marginless is red ink; margin is black ink.

Marginless is culture; margin is counterculture.

“Margin” is a big idea in the third of 11 principles in the new ECFA Governance Toolbox on succession planning: “When your CEO’s lifestyle…is characterized by workaholism (often self-induced), an inappropriate physical condition or habit, a plateaued spiritual life, excessive travel, and out-of-whack work/family life balance, and other unhealthy practices—your leader’s tenure will often be shorter than God’s plan.”

Principle No. 3: Inspire Your CEO to Thrive With a God-honoring Lifestyle asks: Is your CEO thriving?

“An effective succession planning process begins by ensuring that your board invests time (and accountability) in CEO care. When your CEO lives and models a God-honoring and healthy lifestyle, he or she will likely serve your ministry longer with greater faithfulness and fruitfulness. And potential internal candidates will already affirm and practice this core value.”

William Vanderbloemen and Warren Bird, co-authors of NEXT: Pastoral Succession That Works, begins their book with this profound alert: “Every pastor is an interim pastor.” And we would add, “Every CEO is an interim CEO.”

Vanderbloemen and Bird recommend that boards create sabbatical policies, mandate vacations, and day-offs, and inspire leaders to be in accountability groups. They examined almost 200 pastoral succession case studies. “Too many successions are on the heels of a moral or financial failure. And nearly every one of those failures happened because the [leaders] were (a) tired and (b) didn’t have anyone to talk to about their personal fatigue.”

Principle No. 3 lists six policy considerations and three questions on thriving. Check it out here:

DOWNLOAD: ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 4: Succession Planning – 11 Principles for Successful Successions: “Every CEO is an Interim CEO.” The toolbox includes
Read-and-Engage Viewing Guide (20 pages) – photocopy for board members
Facilitator Guide (10 pages)
• 4 short videos (4-5 minutes each)
• Additional resources and succession planning tools

BOARD DISCUSSION: Reflect on the theological implications of “every CEO is an interim CEO.” Will our CEO leave when he or she is thriving, or just surviving?

MORE RESOURCES: Follow the “40 Blogs. 40 Wednesdays.” color commentaries on Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom. Click here.



This article was originally posted on the “Governance of Christ-Centered Organizations” blog, hosted by ECFA.
John Pearson, a board governance consultant and author, was ECFA’s governance blogger from 2011 to 2020.
© 2021, ECFA and John Pearson. All rights reserved.

This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.