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Six Things to Remember When Making a Leadership Transition
Sometimes I wonder if we call Cru a movement because we move so darn much. In my 20 years on staff I’ve worked on 4 different campuses and have had the “pleasure” of navigating three cross-country moves. How about you? Is a transition in your future? If so, do you know how to leave well? Maybe you’re moving from one assignment to another and the biggest thing on your mind is how to scrounge enough boxes (hint: try liquor and grocery stores), but have you thought about how to transition well? Having transitioned a few times, here are six things I think you need to know:
1.Don’t drop a bomb.
I remember visiting one church where, after his morning message, the pastor announced to the congregation that this would be his final Sunday with them. All around me I could tell most of the audience was completely taken off guard. The pastor had dropped a bomb on his flock.
As a leader, you need to help create a sense of security for your staff and students. The dramatic farewell at a staff meeting or weekly meeting does just the opposite. In that same way that Paul called for a meeting of the Ephesian elders in Acts 20 and told them of his departure, we need to let key leaders in on our decision to leave at the appropriate time.
2. Explain the nature of your new calling.
In Acts 20, Paul took pains to explain to the Ephesian leaders why he is leaving and why they would not see him again. The first rule in any major change situation is; “Communicate, communicate and communicate some more.” Cast vision for why you are making the move you are making. Bring people in on your decision-making process. Help your staff and students see God’s hand in moving you on. This may not be easy especially if this transition isn’t your idea, or if you are leaving for some negative reasons. Even in a negative situation, help your people see God’s sovereignty and His goodness to you.
3. Don’t leave before you leave.
We’ve all heard about the leader who “checked out” before actually leaving, haven’t we? Don’t become one of them. Paul exhorts us to “run the race” with perseverance. When I ran track in high school, the coach told us to “run through the tape.” Make sure you run through the tape and don’t “phone in” your last semester. Keep meeting your disciples; keep sharing your faith on campus. Running hard until the end sets an example for your staff and students, it’s also good stewardship to those who give to your ministry.
4. Set up the new leader well.
As an outgoing leader, it is your job to help the new leader be successful. Speak well of that person. Talk about how hopeful you are and the positive qualities of that person. Talk about the hand of God leading the new leader to your campus. Set them up for success! If you are bitter about having to leave, don’t take it out on the new guy.
5. Don’t dump and don’t steal.
The new leader doesn’t need your junk. Whether that’s notes from old leadership meetings, or books you never used, if you didn’t use them, neither will they. You might want to go through your junk and throw away anything you didn’t use for the past two years. If you are questioning, just ask the new leader if they want it.
And don’t take what doesn’t belong to you. Did the ministry pay for that iPad? What about that commentary set? Or those small group materials? If you want to take it with you, ask the new leader’s permission and offer to pay for it.
6. Remember, you are in transition.
One author called the time of transition, “The neutral zone.” You can change physical locations in a matter of minutes or days, but to emotionally transition can and usually does take much longer. Give yourself permission and time to grieve your losses (change always involves loss). Be realistic in your expectations for the coming year. We saw our first year as “year zero” in a five-year movement-building plan. Did we work hard to see things happen? You bet. Did we give ourselves lots of grace to not expect a whole lot? Absolutely. I recently read about one new CEO who decided to not make any changes for the first 100 days. He spent that time listening and learning. You might want to try that.
A final word: Transitions aren’t always up to you, but how you transition almost always is. Leave well, because how you leave is how you will be remembered.
Now it’s your turn. I’d love to hear thoughts and ideas you have for how to transition well. And, I think we’d all love to hear a few transition horror stories if you’ve got any. So, the comment bar is open – post away!