Frances Longley: Your last 100 days are as important as your first 100

Here's what I've learned preparing to leave the chief executive role at Amref Health Africa

Frances Longley
Frances Longley

There’s plenty of advice on offer when you start a new role. If that role is chief executive, it is likely to focus on how important your first 100 days are.

But as I reach the end of my time as chief executive at Amref Health Africa, I‘ve noticed an absence of good advice about how to leave the top job.

What about the last 100 days? Where’s the wisdom for that?

The clock starts ticking when you hand in your resignation, and the time will go quickly. So what will you do in those three months?

How you leave can be as important for your organisation as how you start. It can smooth the path for your successor or derail them with chaos.

It can help to prepare your team for change or leave them feeling disengaged, mutinous even. Manage that time well and it can leave you with a sense of achievement and closure rather than regret.

I’ve been working out how to do this and if I had my time again there are things I’d do differently.

Here’s what I’ve learned from my own last 100 days.

Reflect on what will have been most important to your organisation, and to you, about your tenure and be sure to leave those elements in good order. You’ll regret it if you don’t. I wish I’d done this earlier in my notice.

Talk to your team about what they might want you to prioritise in your last weeks and decide what you’ll focus on. Speak with your most important partners and agree how you can smooth the transition.

I wish I’d been tougher about saying "no" to unnecessary demands: the clock is ticking and you will run out of time for the things you want to achieve. My first month raced away and I left it later than I would have liked to set clear goals.

Talk frankly with the chair and trustees to make sure the board learns valuable lessons about how to work with the chief executive before your replacement arrives. This has been difficult and has taken time, but I’m glad I did it.

Deal with reactions to your departure from colleagues. Since announcing my resignation I’ve encountered anger, disappointment and apprehension from my team, but mostly kindness, generosity and thoughtfulness.

When I started at Amref four years ago I made a commitment to my team to have honest and brave conversations, and that has helped me to deal with the emotions that come with leaving.

Tell your board, and particularly your chair, what support you require in your final weeks. It’s a huge change for you and the organisation, and your board has a responsibility to help make that transition work well for you and the charity.

Don’t be afraid to be clear about how you want to go: the date, the type of send-off you want, how you wish to mark it for yourself to close the chapter in a healthy way for you and for your team.

Be kind and realistic with yourself: it’s a huge wrench to leave an organisation you’ve led and it has an emotional impact. Don’t underestimate it.

You need to prepare for that and make sure friends and family recognise it too so that you get support – because, given that you're chief executive, there aren’t many people around you at work who will be looking at this situation from your perspective.

But try to enjoy your last weeks with your team. With so much on my to-do list, I sometimes lost sight of how important this is, but I’ve been putting that right and I’m grateful that I have.

We risk spending more time thinking about beginnings than endings. A bad ending can haunt you for years, but a good one can launch you confidently into your next chapter.

If you’re heading into your last 100 days, prepare for it with the thoughtfulness with which you embarked on your first 100. Be generous to yourself and your team. With planning, you can all close the book with warmth, appreciation and pride in what you’ve achieved together.

My last 100 days are almost over. The big things are done, but what I’ve learned just in time is the important stuff: spending time with my team and ending this chapter well. It’s now time to make space for the next chief executive to start their first 100 days.

Frances Longley is the outgoing chief executive of Amref Health Africa. From 1 July she will be executive director for programmes and policy at Care International UK

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