As you probably know, Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, was granted medical leave recently so that he could focus on his health. This has created much anxiety about the company's future as the stock dropped precipitously after the announcement. While the stock has since largely rebounded, the uncertainty is still there. According to The Washington Post, Apple has been fighting efforts by some shareholders to force it to reveal its succession plan. In the Post article, Alexa Perryman, an assistant professor at Texas Christian University, said, "If you're investing in Apple, you're not sure who's leading the company in the long run."
One of the primary responsibilities of the board is to ensure competent leadership of the organization. But that responsibility doesn't stop with hiring and firing the CEO. Having a specific, written succession plan is the only way to ensure smooth transitions when chief executives leave, regardless of the reason for their departure.
Just because your nonprofit doesn't have shareholders doesn't mean you shouldn't have a plan in place: the very act of developing a succession plan can be a transformative act for your board and organization. Thinking about who should be recruited to lead next forces your board and chief executive (who should be involved in the process, by the way) to think about the direction you want to take the organization in the coming years. Should you be developing one or more senior staff members who show great potential, or have you identified someone external who might help the organization take a leap forward? Recall that there's an impending leadership deficit in the sector; not having a plan will only exacerbate the problem for your organization.
Does your organization have a written succession plan? If not, maybe it's time to put one in place.