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IU Northwest News

SPEA director’s new book addresses imminent shortage of public service executives


How-to guide will help current leadership ‘pass the torch’ to safeguard success

Wednesday Sep 28, 2016


Before Karl Besel, Ph.D., came to Indiana University, he headed up a non-profit organization.

When the now IU Northwest assistant dean and director of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs decided to leave the non-profit world for academia, Besel was surprised to be put in charge of finding his own replacement.

“That is really the last thing in the world you are supposed to be doing,” Besel explained, “but I definitely wasn’t alone. A lot of time, boards of directors actually assume that the director will be part of planning that. But actually, that is probably the worst thing that can happen.”

Instead, he says the most successful organizations have a clear leadership transition plan in place, something he says is essential for the continuing success of the organization, whether for-profit, or non-profit.

Besel and a colleague, Charlotte Lewellen Williams, DrPH, associate professor and director of the Center on Community Philanthropy, Clinton School of Public Service, recently co-authored a book designed to educate public-service leaders about how to design and implement an effective succession plan to safeguard an organization’s leadership amidst turnover.

Passing the Torch: Planning for the Next Generation of Leaders in Public Service, serves as a roadmap for the future of public service. This valuable guide is essential reading for all those facing and managing the coming changes in public service, including leaders of nonprofit organizations, university faculty, researchers in the field of nonprofit management, and students of nonprofit management.

The authors say that public-service executives, both elected and appointed within the public and nonprofit sectors, are retiring at record levels as the number of Americans age 65 and older continues to rise. With the number of annual retirees expected to reach four million in 2020, finding qualified, motivated leaders to fill vital public-service positions will significantly challenge the public and nonprofit sectors.

Besel and Lewellen Williams’ research involved interviews with executives at top firms that are successful at succession planning.

Drawing from those interviews, the authors outline the keys to successful succession planning, including how to build an internal bench of potential leaders, and utilizing networking and professional associations to recruit future leaders. They discuss how to train front-line people to move up the ranks in an intentional way.

Besel advises current leaders to evaluate their cultural values when it comes to training leaders from within. Ultimately, the book aims to help non-profit leaders devise a plan to safeguard their organization’s leadership without investing a lot of money in executive training.

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