Most chief executives leave because they retire, move jobs or are promoted. Providing their tenure has been reasonably productive, the news raises anxiety and maybe mild panic among both staff and trustees.
The reason for this is rarely articulated, but in my experience it is fed by a legitimate concern to ensure that the organisation is not destabilised. Boards are also sometimes worried by the possibility of being left with the ultimate responsibility for running the organisation.
Rationality asserts itself and the urge to recruit becomes a significant driver. But this can obscure the opportunity to take stock and reflect on the type of executive leader needed for the next phase.
Given that it will not always be clear what skills and aptitudes are needed for the longer term, trustees should explore what alternatives they have.
Consider appointing an interim chief executive who might tackle a crisis, a move or a restructure, or test the potential of an existing senior manager with an 'acting chief executive' role for a limited period. A board that knows its organisation well can usually be creative about the next appointment.