Monday, August 31, 2009

Succeeding Long-Tenured Staff

IT'S HARD TO LEAVE AUGUST WITHOUT ONE last post. This one is based on a news article about the director of a nonprofit theater leaving his post after four months. The poor fellow decided to call it quits and return home due, as he told his board, to family illness. OK, I guess I'll buy that since the newspaper article is all I know about this story. You just have to wish him and the theater he left better luck the next time around. But, gosh, the theater did a national search and plucked him from 100 candidates. The board president is having to put the best spin on it, as she did in the article, but it sure must feel as though the rug has been pulled out from under her.

But there was an interesting comment in the article that got me to thinking. It said that this fellow had succeeded a long time director. That's given me some blogging grist. If any of you have been in the situation of following a long-time anyone, you know it can be a dicey gig. It happened to me once -- my predecessor had been in her position 25 years and she was well-respected in our little city. She'd raised her kids and nursed her husband through illness and into the next life while directing our local history museum, and I think she was now ready to move on for herself.

It can be a lot ot live up to, these long-tenured and much-beloved predecessors. As the new kid on the block, you're not only expected to fill their shoes, but make big strides with them. And folks will pretty much fall into two camps: those who think you won't measure up and those who are looking for change. Either way, it's considerable pressure.

I've heard it said that it's sometimes much easier to come into a mess, because you've got nowhere to go but up and anything you do will be an improvement over what was. When you come into a stable organization that still has plenty of upward trajectory left you've got to make sure that you keep it moving upward while always acknowledging who got it to where you inherited it. That can be a tough lesson for some of us to learn.

I don't suppose we'll ever know if the theater director's reason for leaving so soon after he arrived was the real deal or a polite excuse. No matter. It was an expensive decision for all parties.

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