Skip links

Succession Planning for the Club Board: Creating a Pipeline of Future Leaders

EVERY CLUB should commit to proactive succession planning for the board to identify the next leaders of the club. How will they be selected? What should they know before taking their seats at the board table? From what sources will this information be transmitted? The future of the club rests on the shoulders of its next generation of leaders.

Succession planning is an intentional process for identifying and developing new leaders who can replace old leaders when they leave, retire or die. Succession planning increases the availability of experienced and capable club leaders who are prepared to assume these roles as they become available.

How does your club fill its leadership pipeline? Here are five steps to begin succession planning:

  1. Begin with the strategic plan. Clubs express their mission, vision and core values within the strategic plan. Primary goals and objectives are important components in the strategic plan. Understanding the strategic plan is ‘magnetic north’ in healthy clubs.

If your club does not currently have a strategic plan, go about establishing one. NCA has an excellent resource, Strategic Planning for Private Clubs that can assist you. Until the long-range strategy (typically three to five years for a private club) is in place, validate the alignment of the current goals with the club’s mission, vision and values. Aligning mission, vision and values is critical!

  1. Be proactive in recruiting leaders. Often club members wish to enjoy the club rather than assuming a role of servant leadership. Club boards should be vigilant in identifying prospective leaders who demonstrate attributes aligned with the magnetic north for the club.

This is not a popularity contest. Establish and approve clear-cut board service criteria.

How does club leadership avoid the appearance of an old boys’ club where only insiders are welcome? Keep an open mind and take an inclusive approach. Different opinions are healthy in a boardroom—especially when expressed constructively. Often clubs follow a wrong turn because no one chose to question the route. By planning ahead, club leaders can ensure a diverse and dynamic club board for the future.

  1. Engage prospective leaders. Make the vision of the club known to them and get these prospects into the club’s leadership pipeline. Committee assignments are a great way to observe future leaders. If they demonstrate reliable and constructive participation at the committee level, they may become effective club leaders.

Private clubs benefit from having legal, financial, accounting and insurance and other professionals on the board. These professional callings should be balanced with nonprofessional people who bring balance and diversity into the boardroom. Beware of a board where everyone agrees on every topic.

  1. Respect trumps resume. Many clubs identify former titans of industry or successful corporate executives and assume that they will be effective servant leaders. Some fulfill that charter and others fall woefully short by demonstrating inattention, disengagement and/or bullying leadership styles. Effective private club leaders blend the capability to get things done with a likeability that engages fellow members. Find potential leaders who treat others with respect and your club’s leadership will be respectable.
  2. Emphasize board mentoring and mentorship. See that each new board member has a mentor to guide him or her in the ways of the board. Ensure that new board members know “the rules of the road” within your boardroom.

Likewise, watch for upcoming committee members who are showing themselves to be worthy successors to a board chair. Inform them of the practices and programs used at the club so that they function effectively in your club’s ecosystem.

The future of your club will be what you decide to make it. Careful planning of the club’s leadership pipeline brings forward needed talent, energy and perspective that can make your club better.

Henry DeLozier is a principal at Global Golf Advisors, an international club management consulting firm that provides specialized services to more than 3,000 clients from offices in Toronto, Phoenix and Dublin (IR). He can be reached at [email protected] or visit