Equitable Leadership Transition Indicators: Time

Two-Part Blog Series: Indicators of Equitable Leadership Transition (wait for it… Time & Organizational Culture).

By Ashley Walden Davis

Edited by Joseph Thomas

The two common denominators that seem to indicate how an equitable leadership transition would faire came down to time and organizational culture. In the following two blog entries, we will delve deeper into each of these indicators, and what you should be considering when planning your pending transitions.


Photo by Ashley Walden Davis

Part I – Equitable Leadership Transition Indicator: Time

With regard to arts and culture leadership transition, I have interviewed, casually spoken with, engaged in formal panel discussions, and read articles from emerging arts professionals, retired leaders, and mid-career managers that were baby booming grandmas, hipster next geners, and folks at varying points on the spectrum. The biggest takeaway I gleaned was around timing and time invested into the leadership transition process.

This should not be any surprise to us because the artistic processes, methodologies, and practice is where most of us spend our energy, and those processes are what have the most impact on our final artistic sharing. Preparing for leadership transition, and mapping out a process for change within our organizations, should be no different.

The google top hit definition for time is as follows, Time tīm/ noun

1.the indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole.

As an artistic community, I feel like this very vague, kind of amorphous definition fits how many of our organizations like to think about time when it comes to decision making, and talking about executive leadership transition, or staffing changes in general. It will happen when it happens, we know it will happen, but we don’t want to talk about it… so we acknowledge the existence, and as long as we think we are on a continued progress of existence it’s fine.  

The reality is that throughout the field there is collective learning and tools that we can share with one another to support these transitions, and make them a point of strength for organizations. One way is to take a look at time.

What I learned is that time and timing is key and commonly came up as an indicator of how a transition would go.

Firstly, the length of time:

  • the current Executive Director has served
    • has contributed to a retirement plan
    • career outside of the particular organization one is transiting
  • the board, staff and field has known of the pending transition
  • the organization has to prepare for the transition
  • the organization has a lapse or has had a lapse in leadership
  • the newly appointed leader has been familiar/engaged/in relationship with the organization
    • has to resign from their current job, relocate their lives and make a public statement
    • has to learn, grow at the new organization
    • has to begin making high stakes decisions at the new organization

Secondly, around the time of the transition:  

  • Was there a crisis?
  • Was there a loss of life?
  • Is this leadership after a founding director, long-tenured leader or a long-lapse of leadership?

As you can see, depending on the circumstances of the leadership transition timing, the approach and care of process should be held differently. Therefore, by exploring these scenarios, I am not suggesting that we come to a one size fits all transition strategy for all organizations, but maybe we should consider what would work best for our organization’s circumstance.

In summary, more time for equitable leadership transition was better, but not because it was simply more time, but because it led to more care of all parties, more thoughtfulness and integrity in the process. It allows for humanity, emotions, and the natural energetic shifts that will inevitably take place when a significant transition happens. We understand that time is a luxury, and due to unforeseen circumstances, we cannot always prepare. But when we can, we should.