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Organizations that encourage new leaders will be the ones that survive

Written by Linda Kirkpatrick on .

Recently I had occasion to speak to the new Leadership Evergreen class. I’ve always been a proponent of stimulating new leaders, one of the reasons Andy Petrick and I co-founded the group 20 years ago. Sustainability of any organization is dependent upon a turnover of those in charge. In fact, I recall having read once that the success of an organization isn’t proven until it changes leadership peacefully.

While remarking that going through Leadership Evergreen is not meant to be just another comment on a résumé and encouraging the newest class to step forward and take on leadership roles with or without titles, I made a rather unlikely point….

Knowing when to step back is just as important. There’s nothing quite as uncomfortable as easing out someone whose time at the helm has stretched on too long.

Leaders don’t need to step away – they are naturals to become mentors.

So many organizations around town worry about stimulating new members, generating new leaders and simply staying alive. Some – like the Evergreen Women’s Club and the American Association of University Women – have ceased operations while others have merged to keep from throwing in the towel.

I learned that, just a few weeks ago, Evergreen Kiwanis Club had merged with Blue Spruce Kiwanis. I recall speaking to the Evergreen Kiwanis Club years ago when a luncheon meeting might have boasted as many as 80 or so in attendance. It was a vibrant group of movers and shakers. In the late 1980s when the men-only group first began accepting women, Bill Marshall tried to get me to become the first woman in his club. Not being a joiner then (nor now), I didn’t accept his invitation, but I always admired the group for its ability to accomplish great things.

About that time, the younger men who preferred to meet for breakfast rather than over the lunch hour started a satellite group under the leadership of Tom Sjoden – Blue Spruce Kiwanis. Well, enough time has passed that the Blue Spruce Kiwanians are no longer young men, but many retired themselves. Yet, they remained younger than the dwindling membership of Evergreen Kiwanis.

I’m told the older group will now become a satellite club to Blue Spruce Kiwanis, and I wish them the best!

In January new leadership took the reins at the Salvation Army.  Celebrating 20+ years of service by Kent Huff, Dick Vickery and Lauren Alter, Cheryl Newhall assumed the role of chairperson with a record collection of more than $50,000 in the red kettles being reported for the 2014 bell-ringing season. Kent, Dick and Lauren will continue to be involved.

It was a pleasure this weekend to observe that the board of directors of The Humphrey History Park and Museum has been infused with several younger members.  People like Amelia Adair, an attorney whose skill sets take in nonprofits and development; Lin Rudy; and Roger Jones. The volunteer appreciation luncheon was a wonderful combination of new blood and wisdom from experience, the perfect recipe for sustaining an account of history. If anyone can make that happen, it’s Executive Director Angela Rayne.

As someone now collecting Social Security, I'm a bit of an old-timer myself ... been around Evergreen more than 30 years now.  And I find myself the youngest on the board at Rocky Mountain Village Estates.  Needless to say, when they suggested bringing someone on the the board who's not quite 80, I became more vocal about the need for younger blood.

Like the age of the ponderosa pines in Evergreen, many of which were planted shortly after 1900, a number of organizations in Evergreen sprang up when Evergreen turned into a year-round community and experienced tremendous growth in the '70s and '80s. They matured like the ponderosas. The healthy ones that planned for new growth will survive. The ones that only ensured the growth of the strongest timbers will become old-growth forests, relics of the past and will not necessarily be the healthiest.  

Like a healthy ecosystem, organizations need to be stimulating new growth all the time.