Supporting CEOs’ Reflection, Networking, and Growth

Some grantmakers provide departing CEOs with opportunities for reflection and networking, along with services designed to help them deal with professional, social, personal, and financial issues. These include:

  • Sabbaticals. A sabbatical can benefit not only the CEO, but also the senior staff left to steer the organization in the CEO’s absence. One foundation-supported sabbatical program addresses both constituencies by giving CEOs a three-month break from everyday activities — a break that includes some foreign travel, as a group, to enhance the CEOs’ global perspective. They can do whatever they want when they return, says the sabbatical director, provided they “not get anywhere near work or their typical life.” Meanwhile, each organization gets a $30,000 grant for training, consultants, bonuses, or other services and incentives to help executive staff take on new responsibilities. The goal, the program director explained, is to move the organization to a higher level of performance and distribute leadership skills more effectively, thus freeing the returning CEO to operate at a higher level, as well. The program is not intended to move long-time CEOs out of their positions in the near future, but to keep them working productively within their organizations.

  • Peer Support Groups. Retreats, workshops, and sabbatical programs sometimes produce groups of CEOs who keep in touch and provide ongoing support to one another. The director of the retreat program described above has been pleased to see that “the head of the zoo, a $40 million organization, is getting together to talk about these issues with the director of a small modern dance company” — a development that might produce collaborative projects and strengthen the local nonprofit community. The sabbatical program has likewise stimulated long-term connections, among both CEOs and senior staff.

  • Coaching. Grantmakers may offer to pay for personal coaching for outgoing (as well as incoming) CEOs. One grantmaker explained her reasoning: “An executive director can really hamper the capability of a future director by not doing a thoughtful job of wrapping up,” she said. “The interim or new executive then gets caught cleaning up messes or spending a lot of time doing administrative grunt work that could have been done better by the outgoing director.” CEOs may need extra encouragement to get started with a coach, said another grantmaker, because they may see coaching as “therapy.” It sometimes helps, he reported, to suggest names of coaches, make introductions, or set up a first meeting.

Takeaways are critical, bite-sized resources either excerpted from our guides or written by Candid Learning for Funders using the guide's research data or themes post-publication. Attribution is given if the takeaway is a quotation.

This takeaway was derived from Executive Transitions.