Ep 129: Finding the Right Leader For Your Org (with Melissa Madzel)

by Joan Garry

An org is most vulnerable when the CEO decides to move on. In this episode, we discuss the right way to conduct a search for a new leader.


Subscribe on Apple Podcasts
Subscribe on Android
Subscribe on Google Podcasts
Subscribe on Spotify

Your long tenured E.D. decides to retire. Your CEO is running out the clock. Or worst case scenario – you made the wrong hire and it took you two or three years to make a move. Now you want to get it right. You want to know how to prepare for a successful search and you are wondering if a search firm is key.

There is no point in an organization’s life in which it is more vulnerable than the moment a decision is made that the CEO will move on. Today I want to talk about how a board of directors prepares an organization for a terrific search, thus exponentially increasing the potential for success.

What do you need to do for a search firm to have an understanding of the mission, culture and values of the institution? Does the search firm need to meet with the board before a search?

My guest, Melissa Madzel, is the Managing Director of Equity Initiatives and Koya Partners who claims her superpower is to figure out who the smartest and most interesting people are in the room and introducing them to each other.

What are the elements that go into making great and diverse hires? Who should be on the search committee? How long in advance do you plan for a hire? What are some of the key elements in a candidate? When do you engage staff? And what are some of the DEI factors to consider, especially when hiring in a leadership position?

Today she answers these and more questions about the planning and scaffolding that needs to be in place in order to set up a leader for success.


As the Managing Director, Equity Initiatives for Koya Partners, Melissa is responsible for ensuring that Koya’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is infused into every aspect of the firm’s work with clients, candidates, and staff. In leading this work, Melissa applies her experience as a search leader for numerous organizations, as well as her background in social work and staff development.

Prior to this role, Melissa served as a Managing Director, Executive Search with Koya Partners, primarily focusing on identifying senior leaders for social justice organizations. Melissa led or co-led executive searches for organizations including: Innocence Project, Demos, Community Change, Foundation for a Just Society, MoveOn, Southern Poverty Law Center, and Hetrick-Martin Institute.

Through her earlier nonprofit work, Melissa developed a deep understanding of a variety of nonprofit roles and organizational cultures. Prior to joining Koya in 2015, she held positions with UNICEF USA, Safe Horizon, and Cities of Service. She also served as a Founding Corps Member and Program Manager with City Year New York.

Melissa serves on the Advisory Council of Equity in the Center, a national initiative dedicated to creating a more diverse and equitable social sector talent pipeline. She actively volunteers her time to provide coaching and mentorship.

Melissa holds a Masters of Social Work from the School of Social Policy and Practice at the University of Pennsylvania. She earned her BA in Human Services and Theatre Performance from Northeastern University.