Following the Leader

Lessons of Leadership - Follow the leader

Did you ever play the childhood game ‘follow the leader’? It required precise mimicry of the leader or you were ‘out’ – and the last person standing became the next leader. There were often foolish antics behind the leaders back – coupled with the joy of not getting caught in the act. I am not quite sure why we found this game so compelling. Perhaps it was a satisfying acting out of the power dynamics we were experiencing. Is this game a version of our current succession planning efforts within our organizations?

Emerging leaders are faced with a wide array of decisions about developing their leadership platform, which are informed and influenced by the previous ED’s legacy. The longer the term of the previous leader, especially if they were the founder, the stronger the pull to ‘mimic’ their leadership stance. Developing leadership authority in this environment of persuasive ghost roles requires careful attention to the signs, self-knowledge, the ability to be nimble, permission to make mistakes, and a practice of self-care. And support.

How are we supporting our emerging leaders? Are we taking the time to partner with them to insure success? Are we letting go of past leaders in a way that allows for fresh insights and actions to emerge? Often the boards that are left behind are also part of the legacy of the past leader and may not be designed and ready for a new leader taking hold of the reins differently.

Let’s celebrate new emerging leaders with our best thinking about the future of our Nonprofit, its mission, and its values.  Let’s hold the vitality of the hologram of the past and overlay collective intention to move into a positive future.  Let’s be accountable for our promises and engage with openness. Let’s stand together – next to the leader.

Are you a nonprofit executive director that has followed a founder or long-term leader? Interested in meeting with others having this experience? Contact us – we will be convening a group and facilitating a conversation:


Interested in reading more?


The Nonprofit Times, Five Tips for Following a Founder

Nonprofit Quarterly; Re-diagnosing Founders Syndrome

Blue Avocado; Following a Founder or Long-timer Requires a Hard Head

Transition Guides; Four Case Studies of Founder Transitions

New York Nonprofit Press, The Ghost of the Founder

Blue Avocado; I Followed a Founder; A first person Nonprofit Tale