Leadership transitions are rich moments in the life of organizations and in the experience of those who guide them – leaders, staff, board, and other stakeholders. Following a critical concept from anthropology, as “liminal” times for organizations – boundary moments when the organization moves between one state and another, between past and future, between what was and could be. They are, therefore, full of potential and full of risk. For Tom Gilmore, one of CFAR’s founders and an organizational thinker and consultant focused on leadership transition, these are critical times for organizational work, learning, and dialogue.
These ideas of potentiality and risk are captured well through Tom Gilmore’s book Making a Leadership Change: How Organizations and Leaders Can Handle Leadership Transitions Successfully. Looking temporally at the stages of change as organizations prepare for leaders to leave and new leaders to arrive, Tom brought multiple frames to bear including psychodynamics and culture, systems thinking, history, politics, and group dynamics. His distinctive thinking asks us to consider:
- How the shadows and projections of previous leaders weigh heavily on the organization around these times of change
- Leadership exits as being as important as leadership entries
- The dependency of the incoming leader on existing staff, who have a better take on what is going on in the organization than the new leader and can choose to withhold or share information with them, requiring the new leader to thoughtfully connect with staff
- The linking of these leadership transitions to broader strategic and cultural changes happening in the organization and in the ecology more broadly
- Helping the organization take a temporal view of these transitions through time versus just as singular moments
The book, now thirty-five years old but relevant to today’s situations of pressures on leaders and of rapid leadership change, demonstrates the kind of thinker Tom is, weaving together themes, case examples from multiple industries and organizations, and theory from a range of thinkers. But ultimately, it provides helpful guidance for leaders at all places in the organizational system and points in the transition. And for consultants like us who learned from Tom’s mentorship, it guides us to focus our help in ways that move the organization forward to a healthy future.