Chief Executive Transitions – Book Review




“The bottom line: Nonprofit boards need to figure out how to make sure executive transitions are not a problem for their organizations, but rather an opportunity to enhance capacity and add to mission impact down the line.”


Estimated reading time: 3 minutes


Don Tebbe’s Chief Executive Transitions: How to Hire and Support a Nonprofit CEO is a precise and succinct text on the processes and practicalities of leadership transitions. This book is targeted at boards dealing with or preparing to transition between CEOs and outlines the principles of Tebbe’s system for Executive Transition Management (ETM). Tebbe acknowledges that the hiring of a new CEO and the successful transition of leadership is one of the most important (and stressful) duties of the board. Don Tebbe is a managing partner of a consulting company that specialises in executive transition management for nonprofits. He has been assisting with executive transition projects since 1995.


The specific focus of Chief Executive Transitions sets it apart from other governance manuals, which more often cover a range of topics or a more generalised area such as strategy or financial oversight. As a specific-issue manual it is also unusual for being directed specifically at non-profit boards. These types of books will have some relevance to non-profit boards or organisations or contain a chapter or two dedicate to non-profits, but they have a different feel to books, such as this one, that are intended solely for non-profits.


Chief Executive Transitions is accessible and easy-to-follow. It is carefully organised into three distinct parts: planning for the leadership change, managing the departure and managing the search and hiring process. Each part contains multiple chapters and deals with a major stage in the transition process. Each idea follows logically from its predecessor but could be read independently if specific insight is required. A brief scanning of the text or even its contents page will prove informative in laying out a simple guideline for a successful transition. Tebbe stresses the importance of thorough planning and not rushing the process or skipping important steps even in cases when the most desirable candidate or outcome appears quite apparent. This focus on attention to detail and thoughtful planning is reflected in the careful way in which the text is written and constructed.


Tebbe’s writing style is direct and informative and his tone informal and inclusive – he seems to express a genuine interest in the successful complete of transition projects and inspires confidence with this attitude. Full of graphs and tables to aid in the explication of its message, the book is practical, relatable and readily actionable rather than overly academic. Tebbe has a positive attitude to the transition process, encouraging board members to keep in mind the potential positive gains of a successful transition. From the beginning of the book, Tebbe highlights the opportunities that a successful leadership transition can create for an organisation rather than focusing on the risks of a failed transition.


Tebbe acknowledges chief executive transitions as inevitable and a situation that all board members should be prepared for during their tenure, as they may occur on multiple occasions. Tebbe also stresses the importance of taking the time and consideration not only in the choosing of a suitable replacement for the outgoing executive but also in overseeing the process as a whole and being cognisant of the impact of the transition on the organisation as a whole.


Chief Executive Transitions comes with a CD of additional content on “How to Hire and Support a Nonprofit CEO”. It also contains a number of appendices that provide useful information such as sample transition timelines and additional research resources.


This book will be particularly helpful for those boards or board members preparing for a leadership change in their organisation but it is also appropriate for any board member who is unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the task, or for new board members. Given that Chief Executive Transitions contains a great deal of advice pertinent to the early stages of a transition it should ideally by read before the process is underway, but it might also be referred to for clarification throughout the transition. For a slim volume, this book packs some punch – it clearly and carefully covers the relevant policies and procedures required to prepare non-profit boards for this important process.


Published by Board Source, 2008. 113 pages.

Avatar About Julia Duffy

Julia is a writer and researcher at Better Boards. She has a passionate interest in the non-profit sector, particularly its legal and regulatory complexities and she follows all news and developments in this area keenly. Prior to joining Better Boards, Julia served as an intern at Philanthropy Australia. Julia has a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Melbourne, majoring in Political Science and English Literature.

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