Succession Planning – The Elephant in the Room

The “elephant in the room” is an expression describing when something is so obvious, but no one wants to talk about it.  So they talk about it, pretending it is not there.  The elephant, the most obvious problem and challenge for Shishur Sevay is that at some point Shishur Sevay must run without Dr. Michelle Harrison.  And that is as it should be.  One of the most serious mistakes a founder can make is to believe he or she will be there forever.  This elephant has been squarely in my vision from the beginning, and actually we here have talked about it more than once.  But others, reading about us, interacting with us, are often afraid to ask the most logical question, “What if you are not here?” 

So, what are we doing?  How do we begin?  We begin by looking at the systems, the sections, the natural divisions of functioning.  There is administrative, with finance and personnel the major components of that.  There is the internal school we run, one school, with different categories of children’s learning, some with physical, mental, social disabilities, some just late learners trying hard to catch up with their age peers.  We have the house, running it, the staff who take care of the children and the house, assignments, scheduling, mediating….   Then there is our presentation to the outside world, our Friends, Supporters, Donors.  It’s a lot.

Ultimately in a Society, the Board of Directors carries the ultimate responsibility for decisions.  They need to understand every aspect of the organization, and be able to make decisions, including decisions of leadership in my absence.  We have a very supportive Board at present. Two of our Board office holders, Gibi our Vice President and co-founder, and SeemaDi, our Joint Secretary are involved in the daily functioning of the Home, and have plans to become even more involved over time.  Even more important, each is deeply committed to the girls and their welfare.  The Board needs to be further strengthened.  Those discussions have begun.

Every task that is done by me has to be considered — who would do this if I were not here?  Someone, or rather the function of someone, has to be identified for each responsibility, whether it’s calling donors, meeting with the school, or noticing that a button is missing from a school uniform.  In the best of all situations I could step out and everything would continue, no one missing a beat.  I’ve written many times that I have no plans to leave Shishur Sevay.  I assume I am here for the duration, but I don’t want to manage Shishur Sevay “for the duration.”  I want to build a management team that can carry on the vision, mission, and values of Shishur Sevay.  I want to help develop the Board to take more of a leadership in the organization. 

Our first plan for Shishur Sevay included a “self-limiting” factor that could be a fall back if the organization did not thrive or grow.  But that vision assumed that all the girls would become independent in some form, would be married, or otherwise live on their own and support themselves.  By taking in profoundly disabled children, who cannot eat, dress, toilet themselves, nor can the speak, Shishur Sevay has become committed to providing this level of caring and education beyond the youth of the abled children.  Shishur Sevay must be a permanent home with vision far beyond our twelve children.  This is good.  This is a learning.

I’m thinking about this even more with the move.  Actually I keep hoping I can find a good reason NOT to move, as the task is a daunting one.  This morning I looked out the window, thinking about Shishur Sevay, and realized once again why we have to move, and why it is MY responsibility to get us moved.  If I think of us as a ship, then I say we are not in a safe harbor.  It is quiet at the moment, but that can change at any moment.  It is my job to get us to a safe harbor.  I can negotiate the waters here.  I have for four years.  I’m the founder; I’m a foreigner, for better or worse; I have an (at times) imposing presence.  But what happens when I’m not here?  Is any other director going to be safe walking to the end of the lane?  Will the girls be safe walking, without my presence holding off the goondas?  No, we have to be where we have easy and immediate access to a road, and where others have easy access to us.  It’s really pretty simple. 

I’m the captain.  The ship has to be seaworthy.  The crew has to be able to take over at any moment.  The Board has to be prepared to give direction to the crew.  All this needs to be in place.  It came to me pretty simply this morning.  I have to leave a seaworthy ship with a seaworthy crew, docked in a safe harbor.  I could not “rest in peace” otherwise.



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March 2011
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