Leadership has a beginning and an end. Your leadership has a beginning and an end. Being aware and capable enough to lead to, and through a transition, is a critical step for any leader. One day you won’t be the leader and your best contribution to the organisation might be the way you leave it not the way you entered it or even led it over time.
In the faith world I lead in, we use a word that I think best describes what leaders do, for how long and with who. That word is ‘season’. There is a ‘season’ for specific activity and focus. There is a season for certain things to be led, accomplished and focused on. There is a season for growth, a season for ruining, a season for maturity. There is a season for your leadership. And one day, that season will come to an end. A startling reality check for all of us. The word can be translated across all platforms. There is a time, an assignment, a role, a stage that you specially have as a leader to serve in for the benefit of the people and the organisation. There is also a time, a season, when your role will be to hand off the leadership responsibility to the next generation, plan to do it well.
The truest reason for a healthy transition must be about the organisation and not the specific leader at the time. The focus of a transition needs to be what the purpose is for the organisation, and what it most needs for the future. The leader of any organisation lives with the paradox between knowing their personality will be deeply imprinted on it, and that at some point in time the needs of the organisation will surpass who they are.
The big idea of any transition needs to be LEGACY. What does the organisation stand for and who can best lead it into the next season? When everyone knows their energy and resources are for the bigger picture, it can (hopefully) make it easier to orientate around the change that is before them. Ultimately, the truest test of a leader will be if they choose to serve the future of the people they are leading, and not just their own next steps. Your leadership will end but your legacy will continue on. It’s imperative to do that well.
One perspective on transitions is the following model. You have ingredients; outcomes that all work towards building a legacy. Let’s unpack this.
Transition | Master Model
The Core Ingredients of Leadership Transitions.
Intentionality | Be deliberate about making the change.
Any unintentional leadership change has the ability to deeply destabilise an organisation. A leader ‘here one day and gone the next’ can impact and affect morale, focus and the fruitfulness of your tribe. Do everything you can to avoid these experiences. They are agonising for people and unhelpful to the mission.
One day, you will not be the leader. It’s better to be considering that day with a high degree of intentionality and maturity well before it comes along. To be deliberate and wise about a change in leadership truly serves an organisation and its people. It spares you from the abrupt gap-filled and question-fuelled experiences that many an organisation have stumbled through. Be intentional.
Buy-In | People need to believe in the change.
Early on in a leadership transition that I led, I met with Andrew. Andrew was a year ahead of me in a leadership transition. We’d never met; we’d never spoken. We’d never talked life, leadership and legacy like we do now. What struck me was that Andrew came with a resource for me that was a game changer at the time. He showed me a paper he had authored and the source material he’d used that said, “Any leadership transition will work if 10% of the people are for it. It will become unstoppable when 25% of the people are for it.” That was a lifesaving piece of information for me. I knew I could do that! Today I’m pleased that the number of people who are for our visions is significantly higher.
“People are down on what they’re not up on,” says John Maxwell. In times of transition, buy-in gets developed through open and transparent dialogue. The only rider I’d place here is what I call “right information at the right level.” Oversharing is dangerous and confidences must not be crossed and information that is simply not for public consumption should stay that way.
Share the right amount of information with the right amount of people at the right time and ask them for a big commitment to the future. That will serve buy-in.
Time | Use your one flexible resource to serve change.
When you have intentionality shared and achieved buy–in, your next best friend is time. Use the resources you have to introduce the thinking, the culture and the behaviours that will serve transition. The wise and proper use of time should give you even greater opportunities to be intentional and deliberate about serving transition. Time needs to be invested SO well that you reap the rewards of that investment in the stages of transition that follow.
Don’t use time. Invest it. Don’t waste time. Invest it. Spend it wisely on the right messages, for the right people, at the right time.
As you transition expect the following affirmations:
Engagement | An increasing number of people will follow.
As you move to and through a leadership transition and you believe it’s heading in the right direction, then it’s safe to assume that engagement from the team, the tribe and the people will result. When people invest into the transition, believe in what the transition will accomplish and experience the transition well, increasing levels of engagement will result.
- Engagement builds confidence to join the new directions.
- Engagement demonstrates confidence in the new leader.
- Engagement helps develop people.
- Engagement serves momentum.
Focus | Becoming clearer about what to start, stop and continue.
What needs to be started? What needs to be stopped? What needs to be continued? Can technology be leveraged even more? Is there energy leaking out of the organisation because there are ‘off mission’ activities. Healthy leadership transitions allow you the time to take a helicopter view of the world; see what will make it through and what won’t. This high level picture is essential to continuing a positive transition; allowing a new leader the space to make positive changes. Mission focused changes. Resource allocation changes. This all comes under the banner of focus.
The better a transition, the more focused a tribe becomes. Focus well.
Change | It will become increasingly clear that a new era is in play.
With engagement and focus you create a playing field of change. New initiatives can be introduced. Strategies that no longer work can be sidelined and the purpose for which the organisation exists can light up the sky as a new era is introduced. Great leadership transitions allow for the right amount of change to take place to serve the future of the organisation.
Utilise the window of transition to make purposeful and mission-orientated adjustments to the way the organisation works. Change what needs to be changed, but not for change’s sake. Lean back into the three ingredients of transition, ensure they are intentional, that there is buy-in and that you invest the right amount of time to see the change through. Sometimes a change is just what’s required to breathe a breath of fresh air into the dream.
Sidebar | The exact opposite is also true.
During the process of leadership transitions – even with the purest intentionality, a good level of buy-in and the appropriate use of time to lead through these changes – people can and will decide not to follow.
You can expect disengagement and departures. That’s normal.
You can expect a level of independence or self-focus to be prevalent rather than a sacrificial commitment to the bigger picture. That’s normal.
You can expect there to be push back against new initiatives, new ways of thinking and new ways of behaving. That, leader friend of mine, is normal.
Leaving well, it’s never much fun to lead through, but it is very much a normal part of leadership. Know that it will be ever present however needs not be the dominant or driving force.
To have a healthy leadership transition you need intentionality, buy-in and time. Then utilise the engagement focus you get to create change, which over time will serve legacy – the ultimate purpose of the organisation.
#onestepleadership | A Big Vision to Make Leadership Smaller