Change and transition are inevitability for every leader. One day, whatever you are leading now, you will not be leading then. When you understand this deeply and engage with it sensibly, you realise that one-day, there WILL be a transition. One day you will step down and someone else will step up. One day what were once your shoes will be the shoes of a much younger man or woman doing things vastly differently to you.
Yes, that will happen. How that happens is something you as a leader can serve and influence for the benefit of your tribe and for the leader that follows you.
As you look around, you see what seems to be the pace of change in the world, and how people are embracing it, experiencing it or just watching it as it passes them by. The current generation is the first to grow up and know a world that was ALWAYS online. If you were born in the year 2000 or later, you have always believed music could be stored on a device that fits in your pocket. Text IS communicating, and you well and truly live up to the title “screenager”. They experience technological and social change so rapid it becomes their new normal. Life as we know it continues to change at what seems to be rapider than it used to. Change is a surety. Transitions happen. Leading well in them and through them is a must.
Building on the Leadership Transition Framework and utilising the Leadership Transition | Master Model below you can be clear on what a leadership transition looks like. Then you need to be aware of how it might be experienced. No two transitions are the same. No two tribes are the same. That would lead you to a sensible conclusion that no two transitions are the same? You’re right, mostly. There are some things that are consistent with transitions that might be applied diffusely in your context. These are your “how” when it comes to transition. Your steps so to speak.
Leadership Transitions | Master Model
When I hiked in the high country in Australia, we have snow poles that follow a track that you can easily see when the snow has melted; the poles follow the hiking track. When the winter sets in, and the ground is covered in snow, those poles become significantly more important. They help you track along a course even when you can’t tell exactly where you are going and what you are doing. They establish a few ‘markers’ along the way so that even if rough weather sets in you still have a way of seeing and making sense of what to do next and where to head.
These points are a summary of transition and re-engineering that I’ve led for the last several years. They are the markers that I’ve learnt and used both when the weather was for me and on occasions when the weather was less than kind. I wrote this not to prove I did it right or that even “this is the way to do it”. I had written this summary as a prelude to what I intend to be a book. That outlines the lessons learned and principles followed that have served not just to transition a tribe but to set it up intentionally for the next generation to lead well. Briefly, here are the markers that have been most clear to me through the journey of leadership transitions.
Inevitability is in the air.
One day you will not be the leader of what you are leading right now. In fact tomorrow you are a day closer to that time. Great leaders know this and begin to prepare for this day from the day they arrive, or at least close to it. As leaders age; as seasons draw to a close; as your passion to keep doing what you do wanes somewhat. Remember this, one day you won’t be the leader of what you’re leading now and you will be most remembered by your exit, not your arrival.
Let the weight of this inevitability point you to responsible, sacrificial and mature leadership development and deployment.
Start early, it takes longer than you think.
Being brave enough to map out what a transition might look like is a serious undertaking for any organisation. Working on the how while leaving room for appropriate levels of honour, the right timing, creating space for new leadership to be engaged and for the organisation to be able to follow.
Generally leaders say too long.
Generally organisations take too long.
Generally transitions creep up on everyone involved.
Generally transitions happen to hastily.
In the not for profit world that I dance in, whatever time we think needs to happen ought to be doubled. With objectives more important than profit to them, it takes time (perhaps more time) to make sure the priorities and the pathways are in place.
Start earlier, it takes longer than you think.
Been there, doing that.
I have spent two decades creating, leading and encouraging transition. For some of those
experiences, it has been internal. That is, I moved from department to department transitioning each one of them to a new way of operating and making sure a new culture grew up underneath it. I introduce multi-million dollar building programmes and set up educational colleges, training institutions and pathways of growth.
I’ve started a business. I’ve transitioned the leadership of a church from one generation to the next. I’ve hired and fired, I’ve set vision, I’ve changed culture and I’ve trained leaders. In all of that, one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is nothing serves you more in leading transition than learning from the transitions you have already done.
Know who writes the script.
In the process of transition, it’s essential to know what the history and DNA of the organisation is. Who has had their hand on the pen of the history? What has that history been like? How healthy is the organisation right now? Why or why not?
Where is the drive and energy for the future of the organisation? Who seems to have what it takes to make the leadership leap and carry the next phase of the organisation forward? What has happened historically that will inevitably shape the way your organisation experiences transition? Knowing who HAS written, and who CONTINUES to write the script, allows for you to head into transition with your eyes wide open.
Desiring the greater good.
The motive is critical in and through the process of transition. Understanding what your deeply held beliefs are and how they interface with the organisation is critical. Overall, the most resourceful place to enter into any transition is to desire the best for the organisation and the people in it. This might mean challenging unhealthy culture, practices, mindsets or behaviours.
Having an awareness of your deep motivations and inviting people into the higher levels of agreement, is a key skill for the leader in transition.
Pointing people to the higher ideals and the purest motives is also a core strategy when resolving conflicts and creating joint understanding. Believe the best, act for the best and work together for the best.
Fingerprints V Templates.
In transition, the wise leader will work hard to identify what is core to the organisation and what needs to be introduced (or removed), to increase the health and effectiveness. The key distinction here is to be able to work out what is inbuilt in the organisation and can’t be changed. Like fingerprints. They are with you always and can’t be changed. The other opportunity available is the introduction of templates. Something external to the organisation that will create enough of an impetus to move the changes forward in a healthy way.
You can’t change a fingerprint. You can only work with it. You can utilise templates as ways to serve the transition. What’s important is, knowing the difference.
Define Reality. Really.
Max De Pree said, “The first job of a leader is to define reality.” In all transitions, leaders need to make sure they are defining and clarifying what is REALLY going on. When you have clarity on the real issues, you are most empowered to make the best decisions at the time.
In times of transition, leaders need to continue to be clear around the reality that is being faced. Be courageous in the face of whatever reality is for your organisation. However tough, however hard, however challenging, be utterly resolved to define what is true and be prepared to face the challenges ahead. Healthy transitions can only continue to the extent that the truth is told. head. Healthy transitions can only continue to the extent that the truth is told.
Next Week | Stages 8 – 14 of Transition.
On this blog the second 7 stages of leadership transitions will be unpacked.
#onestepleadership | A Big Vision to Make Leadership Smaller