When the CEO Leaves, But Hasn’t Left

Most CEOs who resign their position head off somewhere else. But AIIM’s John Mancini is staying put after departing the corner office. Here’s how he plans to stick around without making things awkward.

John Mancini insists that what’s going on doesn’t have anything do to with the b-word.

That would be “burnout,” a topic I’ve covered here recently from the perspective of a leadership consultant and a CEO who moved to a lower position on the org chart at a different association. Mancini has been the president of AIIM for almost 20 years, and he’s not leaving. But as the association of information professionals announced earlier this month, he has “requested a transition to a new set of responsibilities.”

In plain English, that means he’s moving away from the day-to-day operations at AIIM and instead helping to launch a content-marketing consulting business within the association. “I wouldn’t say I was burned out, but I could see it happening,” Mancini says. “Do I really want to keep what I’m doing for the immediate future down to do the point I ultimately do retire? I have been part of organizations where the top dogs stay too long.” As he pointed out in a blog post filling out some of his thinking about the move, sometimes an association can have too much stability.

Mancini’s move raises an issue that’s common in the association world on the governance end: What do you do with a past president? That person is no longer in a strong leadership role at the organization, but nor has she left the fold, which can lead to struggles over who has the main “voice” on the board—a situation often imperfectly resolved by having the person head a nominating committee. Mancini is alert to the issue, and planned for it. Here are a few of his thoughts about how a CEO can offboard without quite going away.

I have been part of organizations where the top dogs stay too long.

  1. Think about your passions. Mancini has spent 35 years in associations, long enough to recognize that the things that get you stoked about leadership when you start are going to evolve. “There was a time when there were things that don’t drive you crazy, but after a while you start to say, I don’t know how I keep doing the same thing,” he says. For his part, Mancini says he’d begun to see content marketing not only as an important trend for his industry, but one that he was excited to pursue. “We’ve had some really good experiences thinking about what content marketing means, not only in the context of how we can help our companies be more effective, but also thinking about what that ultimately means for associations.”
  2. Make sure your key relationships are strong. An unsupportive board is in no rush to reshape a CEO’s job when he’s thinking about a change. “I started a conversation with my board and they were kind enough to engage in that conversation rather than show me the door,” he says. That’s a product of creating a board culture where being candid about goals is essential: “If you’ve been someplace a long time, you need to have a board you can have an honest conversation with.”
  3. Go slow, both before and after the announcement. Mancini spent six months contemplating the decision, in part to ensure that he wasn’t rushing a move or reacting to a minor on-the-job-headache. “When you’re CEO of an association, you get caught in the middle of all sorts of little fights and firestorms and issues,” he says. “Just the sheer stresses of keeping a nonprofit afloat in this environment, there’s a tendency to say enough is enough. That’s not what I did in this case. I thought about this for a long time.” Once the decision was made in December, Mancini announced the move to staff in last month, and he’ll stick around as the current COO, Peggy Winton, handles day-to-day operations and AIIM searches for a new staff executive.
  4. Know that not being in charge is going to sting a bit. That staff meeting was Mancini’s first moment of recognition that AIIM would be in others’ hands. “It was a bit of an epiphany to realize that,” he says. “My job is to offer constructive contributions, but if I’m serious about this transition occurring, I have got to be comfortable with Peggy running the operation. And I have to give the next tier of the organization an opportunity to lead.” Any leader making the shift, he says, should recognize the urge to step in will be strong, but recognize your place. “Think about whether you’re comfortable with the idea of a bit more listening, and a bit less talking, and whether you’re comfortable with being in a second or complementary position.”

If you have former executives on your staff—or you’re such a person yourself—how did you manage the transition? Share your experiences in the comments.


Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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