Succession Planning: “My Heart Had Left the Building”

By John Pearson

Note:This is the first 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.

“The number one issue for me was passion. My heart was no longer engaged in my job—the fire had gone out. My heart had left the building.”

That transparent admission is from Hans Finzel’s 80-page gut-check-of-a-book, The Power of Passion in Leadership: Lead From Your Heart Not Just Your Head.

The first of 11 principles in the new ECFA Governance Toolbox on succession planning is cautionary: “Principle No. 1: Avoid Buses and Boredom!”

Your board may have an updated emergency succession plan in place (watch the video for another gut check!), but what if your CEO gets bored?

My story is not prescriptive for other leaders, but I was good for about 11 years in any one position (and some less than 11 years). That’s how the Lord wired me. So I know that CEOs and board members will benefit from reading Finzel’s personal journey. He adds:

“It is not fair to the organization or the team to hang on for the wrong reasons. It’s better to leave too soon than to stay too long. Tentative leadership kills the momentum of the whole ministry.

“So, after 20 years in the first chair, I decided it was time for me to step down as the leader of our international ministry. I was no longer all in, so I needed to be all gone. It was a job I once loved, but no longer enjoyed. I asked the board to start the process of finding my replacement. This was one of the hardest decisions of my career, but a good one.”

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

The Facilitator Guide provides three discussion directions (30-45 minutes; 45-60 minutes; or use at a board retreat or two-hour board development session).

On CEO succession planning, David McKenna notes, “No decision of the board, absolutely no decision, is more profound.” As board members, are you stewarding the giftedness of your CEO? Next blog: “Principle 2: Discern Your Board’s Succession Values and Beliefs.”

BOARD ASSIGNMENT: Tee up a discussion, using Video #1, “Avoid Buses and Boredom!” from the new ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 4: Succession Planning. Click here.

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.