Leader Exit

At an as yet unspecified time in the near future, the revered leader of a high-functioning team must exit, due to age, health, opportunity, or some other compelling reason.

The way the team sees it, the exiting leader must bring in a new leader or anoint someone from within, though no team member is clearly the one to take the reins in the eyes of the others. The team is anxious and wants to know what steps will be taken when to secure a new leader.

It is easy to imagine a super-being who would take over. The problem is that such a person is hard to find, expensive, has a high likelihood of being rejected, and would require a great deal of time and energy better spent helping the organization to perform and grow.

The exiting leader knows that, between them, just about everything could be well covered by the current team if they would work together towards that end.

The exiting leader is reluctant to put forward any particular plan for fear that it will be met with skepticism and fierce resistance by the team.


A wise leader asks her/his team for its best thinking before proffering a path forward.

A proven approach for so doing is as follows:

  • Establish a Governance Committee (GC) chaired by the existing leader and at least two other members from outside the organization who are held in high esteem by the team.
  • The GC is to provide a point of accountability, unbiased perspective, and thoughtful guidance, help and support to the exiting leader and to the team.
  • The GC makes clear that it has full responsibility for final decisions and it seeks the best thinking from the current management team before proceeding.
The GC then charters the management team minus its current leader to serve as an Executive Operating Committee (EOC).

The GC then asks the EOC to meet in a series of three professionally facilitated work sessions, each to answer one of the following questions, in turn, and report back to the GC with its best thinking:

  • How can the members of the current team best work together, without the current leader, to run the organization to achieve its potential to perform and grow?
  • What is needed to be successful that will be missing when the team must operate without its current leader?
  • What is the best way to acquire or accommodate for what will be missing when the current leader is no longer around?
The EOC meets to come up with its best answers to the three questions and then briefs the GC:

  • If the EOC’s plan is largely acceptable, and it likely will be, the GC can work with the team to tweak it, declare it the path forward, and provide ongoing support and guidance to help it be successfully implemented.
  • If the plan is flawed, the GC must decide to either work with the team to get it on track or explain why they have come to that conclusion and commit to going outside to find a new leader.


The approach smooths the path forward because, however things turn out, the exiting leader and the GC have sought and secured the best thinking of the team from the get go. The team is readied for change by honoring their thinking and constructively engaging them in figuring out what to do whatever course of action is finally chosen.

See Also

Alternatives to Hiring a COO

Core Leadership Team

Executive Transition

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