Every year, thousands of nonprofit boards face the daunting task of hiring a successor to replace the seemingly irreplaceable: the long-serving, beloved founder. The transition is fraught with anxiety and attracts standard advice about how to cope. “Make a clean break” goes the warning. “Founders and successors are managerial oil and water. They just don’t mix.”

In the world of corporate startups, four out of five founders are forced out by their boards.1 And search-firm executives...

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