Degree Name

MA in Intercultural Service, Leadership, and Management

First Advisor

Paula Green


This study is qualitative research which examines two cases of leadership transition. The overall topic is leadership transition, and organizational change which inevitably occurs during leadership transition is also discussed. This study seeks the essentials of successful leadership transition in small non-profit organizations and aims to develop the author’s knowledge of organizational management and potentially provide other researchers of similar studies a perspective of the topic. Primary data were collected in a series of interviews and presented in the form of case studies. The collected data were analyzed based on related theories and the author’s reflection on the incidents in the cases to draw a conclusion.

Two small non-profit organizations located in USA and Japan experience leadership transition of a long-term executive director. Over a three-year period of observation reveals that each new executive director takes a different approach under different circumstances to pursue their own vision. Support from the board and the working relationship with existing employees determine the success of their transition. Being small limits the number of staff while increasing the dependency on them, and being non-profit often makes the organization rich in mission yet poor in finance. Thus, they face difficulties in shifting power and changing organizational culture. Theories, statements and recommendations from Making a Leadership Change by Thomas Gilmore (1988) are often applied to the incidents of both cases, and the analysis confirms his study. In conclusion, adequate communication, shared vision and strategy, and organizational alignment are some of the essentials of successful leadership transition. However, foremost in importance is the ability of keeping a balance among these essentials during the transition process to navigate through the complex ways of organizational growth.


Organizational Behavior and Theory