When Cindy was elected president of her PTO, she inherited a box of files and lots of confusion even though she had been a member for two years and had worked as the chairwoman of the group’s largest fundraiser. She felt totally unprepared for the scope of the work that fell on her shoulders.

On the other hand, Sandra felt prepared and supported when she assumed office. The previous president spent several hours acquainting her with the records, where things were kept, when things were due, and who was who. She answered every question Sandra could think of and continued to be available to her, especially in the first months of Sandra’s presidency.

As your term draws to a close and new officers are being elected, how will you as a current parent group leader make sure that the new officers are ready? Why is a smooth leadership transition important? How do you prepare new officers for the transition into their new roles?

Transition means more than simply replacing one able body with another. It also means the transfer of the organization’s mission and vision from leader to leader, and the assurance that the tools necessary for carrying out that mission and vision are transferred as well.

Transition Planning

Planning for effective leadership transition can yield many practical benefits for your group. For one thing, it saves new leaders from wasting time reinventing tools, procedures, or systems for getting things done. It also maintains partnerships with key people or groups that have been crafted by you and your team, or those that have gone before you. This kind of information is called “organizational knowledge” and without it, new leaders tend to struggle, redoing work that has already been done.

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Passing on the knowledge tends to minimize confusion and reduce the lag time that can occur as new officers try to figure out what is going on. Without that transfer of knowledge, programs can lose momentum or even disintegrate. Shared information results in new leaders feeling confident as opposed to worried or disoriented as they assume their new duties.

A good transition plan can also give the outgoing leaders a sense of closure. Without that closure, many of us tend to want to hang on, which is a perfectly natural tendency for committed leaders. However, letting go is necessary in order for the new leaders to move on in a healthy way.

Leadership Transition Tips

Begin as early in the year as possible to identify emerging leaders. Encourage potential leaders through your personal attention. Help them to develop skill by delegating responsibility to them for specific tasks or projects, and modeling an effective leadership style. Cheer them on when they express any interest in running for office by sharing with them the benefits you have found in assuming a leadership position.

When new officers have been elected, consider orienting them as a group with all of the outgoing officers. Not only will it help them understand and appreciate each other’s roles, it may also help them to begin building their own team.

Every group has its own timeline, but if you have at least a month or two between elections and handing over leadership, consider asking the current team to act as mentors. This kind of relationship would be a logical follow-up to a group orientation, or it could stand on its own. The process usually involves incoming officers job-shadowing current officers: watching, questioning, and working alongside their counterparts. Gradually, the incoming officers take over while the outgoing officers look on, offering assistance and ideas when appropriate.

Some self-reflection is also in order when thinking about the coming transition. Ask your current team to think back to their first weeks in office. What do they wish someone had told them? If you do this as a group brainstorm at an executive board meeting, each person can then focus on organizing information they wished for when they were new. You might ask each officer to create a binder specific to the needs of that office. Consider including some or all of the following information.

People. PTO membership list with contact information. School contact list, including administrators, faculty, and staff. Community liaisons. Fundraising information. Press contacts.

Documentation and methodology. Constitution and bylaws. Membership recruitment flyers and methods. Training materials. Press clippings. Grants or other funding. Financial records. Information about any special traditions, why and how they are carried out. Forms used. Minutes and agendas from meetings.

Key activities and initiatives information. Objectives from previous years. Status reports on ongoing projects. Ideas in the works.

Personal notes and observations. What worked. What didn’t work. Challenges.

As Frances Hesselbein, the former leader of the Drucker Foundation and the Girl Scouts of the USA, noted in her book Hesselbein on Leadership, most of us will be remembered for just a few of the words or deeds we did in a lifetime that made a difference to others. The way we choose to say goodbye is likely to be one of the ways we are remembered. If we plan and execute it with generosity and grace, our goodbye to our parent group can be an inspiring, unifying gift that relieves organizational anxiety and forms fertile ground for those who follow us.

Originally posted in 2004 and updated regularly.