The Demand Side of Succession Planning: Ripe for Board Involvement

by | Feb 16, 2018 | Board Savvy Superintendent Blog Archive, Board-Superintendent Involvement in Innovation/Change Management

    Doug Eadie

What a great week it’s been!  I was privileged to spend four hours Tuesday morning in Nashville, presenting a workshop (“The Board-Savvy Superintendent”) for – and interacting with – participants in AASA’s National Superintendent Certification Program.  I can’t recall having a more stimulating morning in the recent past, addressing insightful and often challenging questions raised by a group of K-12 chief executives passionate about their districts’ missions.  I was also fortunate to spend a stimulating and thought-provoking hour the next day with a Certification Program sub-group, observing participants discuss various facets of the superintendent succession question.  Their focus was what you might call the “supply” side of succession:  spotting future leaders inside participants’ districts and grooming them for increasingly responsible positions, including the superintendency.

Thinking about the succession roundtable on the plane back to Tampa Bay that afternoon, I was reminded of a pertinent piece that was published at this blog a couple of years ago, “Make a Succession Plan Part of Your Superintendent Legacy:”  This brief overview describes the key elements making up a comprehensive superintendent succession plan.  I also got to thinking (long plane rides are great for thinking rather than doing, aren’t they?) about what I think of as the “demand” side of the succession equation, which lends itself to intensive board involvement.  By “demand,” I mean the leadership attributes, experience, and qualifications that a district needs in a new superintendent in order to ensure that the district responds effectively to significant environmental change.

Over the years I’ve sat in on several board-superintendent work sessions aimed at identifying in detail the kind of leadership needed in an evolving environment as a key part of the succession planning process.  One example in the recent past came to mind as I sat on the plane thinking about the demand side of the equation.  This district’s superintendent had announced his retirement at the end of the school year, leaving the board six months to address the succession question.  The first step the board took was to schedule a half-day mini-retreat involving all board members and the retiring chief executive.  The objective was to examine conditions and trends – at the district, regional and national levels – pertinent to chief executive leadership and then to brainstorm the experience, qualifications, and leadership attributes called for in the next superintendent.  The product of this free-flowing process would be turned over the board’s governance committee for refinement before passing it along to the search committee that was being put together.

In a nutshell, it was agreed that the successor to the current “Dr. Inside” (who’d focused heavily on strengthening instruction and classroom performance and also on internal management system development) needed to be more of a “Dr. Outside” who would focus heavily on community relations generally and on cultivating relationships with key stakeholder organizations more specifically.  This change in leadership focus was in response to the virtually certain need to go to the voters three or four years hence for a new property tax levy to support district operations.  The context was continuing population decline in the district, along with steady growth in the number of district households without children in the public schools.  The bottom line:  a tremendous district need to reach out aggressively in generating community financial support – and, therefore, to recruit a new superintendent with outstanding communication skills and with successful experience in running tax levy campaigns (not directly, of course, but indirectly by assembling and working closely with a diverse committee of community leaders from various sectors, including business).  By the way, no current member of the administrative team appeared to fit this bill, so it was assumed that recruiting outside the district would be a must.

You’ve invited to share your experience in dealing with the demand side of the succession planning equation by commenting at

About the Author: Doug Eadie

President & CEO of Doug Eadie & Company, Inc., Doug Eadie assists CEOs in building a high-impact board-superintendent partnership.

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