How do you know when the time is right to hand off the baton of leadership to your successor?
What are the signs that you’ve stayed too long or not long enough?
When it comes time to make that bold move, how do you pull it off without stepping on landmines?
Leadership succession is inherently tricky. Worse, there is no perfect road map, no guaranteed way of success, and no clear-cut way to avoid pain.
So, what’s a leader to do?
I have been coaching pastors and ministry leaders on this critical transition for 10-15 years. In so doing, there are a few things I have learned. However, last week, it became my turn.
Last week, I went public, announcing to all of our missionary staff that we are formally initiating the transition process. Nine months from now it will be completed and we will formally commission my successor to pilot the ship of ChurchNEXT into it’s next chapter.
I invite you to take a ring-side seat for an up close and personal view of the highs and lows of my journey. Whenever I stumble onto something insightful or simply touch the things you already know, two or more times a months I will write a post about what I am feeling, what mistakes we just made, and what we are learning as I step away from the organization I birthed and led for almost 16 years.
This is installment #1. I would call it, “You Can’t Unring the Bell.”
So let’s start with the simple question, “When it's time to make the big announcement, how do you do it?” Here’s how we did it.
My gut tells me that our approach last week was good and healthy and worth emulating for lots of organizations. Here are the initial wins of our announcement process:
1.) Involve Your Leadership Team
I think that people need to know the future is in good hands. They need to see it demonstrated, not hear a bunch of trite platitudes. In our case, we made a video where everyone on the team had a chance to covey their own personal thoughts about my tenure, this transition, and why the one taking my place is a good choice.
2.) Connect Personally
I have been part of this outfit for nearly 24 years. I started and led one of our teams before stepping into this larger leadership role. And, as a result, there are a host of people with whom I have long term significant relationship—some of them I recruited to join us. Those people deserve to hear directly from me.
I put myself in their shoes. How would I feel if I heard through a large group email that a close friend was stepping down from his role? It would feel so impersonal. I would wonder, why didn’t he or she just tell me directly.
So, I did that. In fact, I made 23 personal phone or Zoom calls last week to friends and team leaders in our organization who deserved to hear first hand. It was a long hard week, but one of the most rewarding I have ever had.
3.) Create Space for People to Engage
I also know that in spite of an academy-worthy video (not,) people will have questions about the process, my successor, or even about my personal future. Questions that will come to them after reflecting on the basic information of the transition.
We pre-planned to host a couple “town hall meetings” this week. They will be simple open forum conversations on Zoom where people are being encouraged to ask anything and everything they might possible be curious about. The rules of engagement are, there are no rules. People are invited to ask about anything. It’s all fair game.
I’ve been surprised so far that the most common questions from our staff are about my wife and I. People want to encourage and affirm us. They want check in on how we are doing and they wanted to know what lies ahead for us
There you have it. This is the first small step in what might be the biggest, most important transition of our lives.
Finishing well does more to anchor your legacy than anything else you will ever do.
So, I invite you to track this journey with me through these blog posts. Perhaps there are lessons that might serve you well when it is your turn.
My promise to you is that I will give you an honest look at my emotional, functional, and strategic steps through the process of giving away leadership to the man who will succeed me.
Hold onto your hat.