Giving Compass' Take:

• Anne Eidelman reflects on her role as the head of an organization, offering tips on confidently leading with impact in the footsteps of a founder.

• Why is it difficult yet important to institute your own leadership after taking over for a founder? How can you encourage successors to continue and improve upon leading with impact after a founder steps down?

• Read more about leading with impact as the successor to a founder.

In June 2017, I took over the leadership of Blue Engine from its founder. The organization, a nonprofit that partners with schools to give every learner the support they need reach their potential, needed stabilization. The founder, Nick Ehrmann, had grown it from inception in 2010 into a nonprofit deploying more than $5 million annually in public and private funding, and reaching nearly 2,000 students across New York City’s district schools. Early results were significant; third party evaluations showed that students in Blue Engine classrooms demonstrated meaningful academic gains. But there were problems, including a climate of growing distrust among staff, misaligned priorities, and revenue challenges, not to mention programmatic uncertainty.

By the time I accepted the role, I‘d already begun questioning whether the organization needed to rethink how it delivered on its mission. But that was not what some funders expected of me; they wanted a “fixer,” a culture carrier focused on survival. It was a pretty low bar and profoundly disempowering.

As a first-time CEO, I wasn’t prepared to question what I would later reflect on as unspoken guidelines for my role as successor. I later realized that what the organization truly needed of me—and what many other organizations need from successors—was the boldness to lead using my own insights, instincts, and entrepreneurial ideas. I needed to be confident enough to make it clear my leadership wasn’t just about quick fixes that would paper over underlying challenges or ignore new opportunities. I needed to communicate that I was going to lead us toward a path that would honor our history and remain grounded in our core values, and that would enable us to make large-scale change.

Read the full article about leading with impact in the footsteps of a founder by Anne Eidelman at Stanford Social Innovation Review.