Effective Leadership Transitions for Student Organizations

Spring is the time that many student governments, programming boards, clubs and organizations, and other groups elect their officers for the next school year. Some will elect only their executive officers, while others will elect a full slate. The time for the new officers to take over varies from group to group, but there seems to be one constant in all campus clubs and organizations: most transitions from the “old” to the “new” are ineffective. Many times, the transition is simply the new officers taking over with no discussion or time spent with their predecessors. If you’re lucky, a box of documents, a gavel, and other leadership elements are thrown on the table as outgoing officers run out the door.

To make transitions more meaningful and effective, here are some tips:

Have a time set aside for the outgoing officers to meet with the new officers. The agenda for this meeting can be as elaborate as a full-day retreat or as simple as discussing job responsibilities over coffee. It is important for the retiring officer to explain what they did and admit to what they didn’t do during their term of office. Discuss projects that were completed and those that were started, but not finished, and the current status. Share key dates for when things need to happen. For example, the new treasurer of a campus chapter of a national organization needs to know when dues are due to be paid and which forms to submit to the national office. For student governments that elect the executive officers in the spring and the senators or other members in the fall, there needs to be a discussion of procedures, dates, and other details regarding the election and training as well as contingency plans for filling open seats should there not be enough candidates.

· This needs to be a time of openness and transparency, not excuse making. Be honest about how much time the job requires each week and other pitfalls that could come the way of the new officer. There needs to be an exchange of contact info between new and old. Outgoing officers should pledge to make themselves available throughout the upcoming year through texts, calls, and social media for both quick questions and longer discussions. To the outgoing officers: You just dedicated a year of your life to the position you are retiring from. Do all you can to keep the momentum of your work going and help your replacement be successful! The continued health of your organization is your legacy!

· There are important documents that need to be passed on: by-laws, agendas and/or minutes from meetings, budgets, copies of important emails, calendars, contacts, scrapbooks and other items created during the year, and anything else that could be of help to the new officers. There also needs to be a passing of gavels, gongs, and banners – these items belong to the organization, not the outgoing officers. When I was working to reactivate my Circle K (CKI) club, I tracked down the last president from two years before. He actually talked about wanting to keep some of the meeting elements as souvenirs! I cut that discussion short and put the box in my car because they were not his to keep. The best way to keep up with documentation like agendas and minutes are to print them out and put them in a binder.

· All of this can be handed to the new officers during the transition meeting. Now, if the outgoing officers have not organized it that way then I suggest the new officers start doing so right away from Day 1. This will help you to make a smooth transition next spring. I often get asked, “Why can’t I just save it all in a folder on my computer and email it to them?” You could and should, but how many folders do you have on your laptop or in your email that you have never opened and looked at? Doing the binder gives something tangible that can be held and reviewed easily.

A smooth transition ensures that the work of the club or organization will continue and the new officers are not starting everything from scratch. This is the legacy of the outgoing officers. Be focused and intentional and you will ensure the health of your organization!

Dave Kelly is known as America’s Student Leadership Trainer and works with student leaders throughout North America. He is currently offering the SGA Quick Start Package to help student governments get off to a great start for the 2023-24 year. Click here to learn more!

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