As is evident from all the turmoil in Washington, the way transitions are handled can be critical for for institutions—whether that institution is as enormous as the United States of America, or as modest as Operation Nightwatch.
Due to my impending retirement at the end of June, Nightwatch is indeed itself facing a major transition. And it is a transition that involves even more than the replacement of te Executive Director, since simultaneous with my retirement Mikaila Smith will be vacating her position as Nightwatch’s Assistant Director, leaving a complete vacuum of leadership at the top.
But back to talking about transitions in general:
The reason transitions are such sensitive times is two-fold.
First of all, every leader inevitably leaves a stamp of his/her personality upon whatever institution s/he serves. That’s especially true when the organizations are smaller and when the leader has been long-tenured. That "personality stamp" is present, for instance, in the leader's management style. All other members of the organization become used to that particular management style. Knowing how the leader reacts to circumstances and interacts with them personally, they know what to expect, as well as what expectations will be imposed upon them. They are rarely dealt any surprises. If a new leader is brought on board with an abruptly different approach, style and personality, much damage can be done. (Just ask any federal civil service worker today.) Consider that I have been serving Nightwatch for the past decade and Mikaila has been at her job for the last five years. For those currently associated with Nightwatch, ours have been the only management models many of them have even known.
Secondly, whatever the mission of an institution, everything finally boils down to relationships. I may go to a job because I need the money, but sometimes even the money isn’t enough for me to stay if I can’t stand the boss or the others I work with. People will even avoid their own family gatherings if all they experience at those gatherings is a threat to their feelings of self-esteem and well-being.
We should know all about relationships, because relationship-building is the very raison d'etre for Nightwatch. From relationship-building comes trust—and as trust rescues one from isolation, so it ultimately leads to healing. But while at Nightwatch we normally think of relationship-building in the context of our interaction with our guests, it is really the thing that makes the whole web of staff-volunteers-guests-donors work. Most donors donate (this is especially true of major and/or repeat donors) because they somehow feel a special connection with Nightwatch. Likewise, volunteers volunteer because they are somehow nurtured by the experiences with others that touch them here. The challenge facing any new leader imported to fill the top spot of the organization is that no one as yet has a relationship with that person. And because that person is the one in charge of everything, the whole network can be on tenterhooks until relationships are established.
Feel sufficiently scared about Nightwatch's looming change? Sorry. I don't mean you to be. To the contrary, I offer this analysis as a means of reassurance. For the way catastrophes are avoided is to anticipate the pitfalls beforehand.
And I want to let you know that our Board of Directors is sensitive to all the potential pitfalls, and is working to see that the upcoming transition need suffer no more bumps along the way than it need to. In other words, it is determined in this transition not to set the stage for similar disruption and dysfunction as is now being played out in Washington.
The Board has been gathering resumes of applicants for the Executive Director’s position and will be doing so through the course of February. Then it will be conducting interviews in March, and by the time April comes around we hope to make an announcement so the relationship-building can begin.