Succession Planning Is: A Springboard for Leadership

Dictionary.com defines the word “Springboard” as “something that supplies the impetus or conditions for a beginning, change, or progress; a point of departure.”

This translates well into the topic of leadership transitions.  Succession Planning is a process that “supplies impetus or conditions for a beginning, change, or progress; a point of departure”

Effective succession plans have four springboards built into the process.  Most leadership teams, however, only take time to build two.  Smart organizations, the ones paying attention and planning well, build all four.

Leadership Springboard 1: PROGRESS

This is the springboard built for the leader that is transitioning out.  Maybe “Progress” isn’t a word you would have chosen to associate with someone’s retirement.  But consider the difference between leaving something verses transitioning to something else.  Smart leaders not only understand this principle, they plan for it.  The process of succession planning, for the retiring leader, is the gateway to their next season of influence.  This is also true for leaders trying to navigate a mid-career change.  The healthy implementation of a transition plan actually increases a leader’s level of influence in their next season….it allows them to progress.

Leadership Springboard 2: BEGINNING

This leadership springboard has to do with the person stepping into the role of successor.  I find it interesting to see how new opportunities elevate a person’s leadership capacity.  It’s not that something mystical happens, but stepping into something new often allows a person to express their giftedness in ways they were not able to in a previous role.  In the same way a springboard launches a gymnast to heights they could not achieve on their own, a well planned transition strategy will increase the leadership capacity of the successor.

It is a reality, however, that not all successors succeed.  There are several reasons for this, but let me offer a word of caution in a specific area.  Don’t presume the successor has developed every skill needed for success in their new role.  No one is perfect.  We all have blind spots.  From the very beginning, build capacity for the successor to grow.  Organizations tend to assume (insert joke here!) that the new leader will have everything needed to move them forward.  Not necessarily.  Depending on the size and scope of responsibilities, it is anywhere from 6-9 months when their leadership deficiencies become exposed.  We’ve all seen it.  We even have a cute phrase to describe this phenomenon.  You can fill in the blank. “The _____________________________ period is over!”

There is no need to fall into this trap.  Build the successor a springboard to help them launch well.

Leadership Springboard 3: CHANGE

It’s rare to see a leadership transition that impacts only one person.  It is more common for a key leadership change to spark a series of other staffing changes.  The result is that additional opportunities are created for increased responsibility for other people within the organization.

Transitions create “opt-in” opportunities.

Be prepared for this by building springboards into your transition strategy that propel others within the existing organizational structure.  This is a unique opportunity to reward and promote talent from within.  Even if the springboard isn’t a full promotion, expanding the areas of responsibility for key people can be just as effective in affirming their contribution and building morale.

Leadership Springboard 4: A POINT OF DEPARTURE

Yes, Succession Planning is a springboard for Leadership, but not always within your organization.  The reality is that sometimes leadership transitions at the top levels of an organization lead to voluntary (or non-voluntary) departures at other levels.  Don’t be too quick to assume this is the response of an immature employee that lacks loyalty.  The transition of a key leader could very well be the specific circumstance God uses to spark a desire to transition for others.

Transitions create “opt-out” opportunities.

Don’t be caught off guard by this reality.  Instead, embrace it.  Not doing so comes across as small minded and defensive.  Instead, give yourself enough time to help your staff process where they are.  Have open and honest dialogue.  Invest in their career path and progression.  You are doing everything possible to springboard your retiring leader into their next season.  Carve out room to do the same for others as well.  Be proactive in in building springboards to help serve as healthy points of departure for everyone.

Let me close with this final thought – Nothing exposes leadership like a leadership transition.

Investing the time and energy to build each springboard is an important part of developing a holistic succession planning strategy.  But it goes deeper than that.  Being intentional about building all four springboards into your process is the ultimate litmus test for how effective you are as a leader.  Nothing exposes leadership like a leadership transition.

Succession Planning Is: A Shift In Stewardship

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what was planted –  Ecclesiastes 3:1 & 2, ESV

The farmer’s day-to-day activities look different from season to season.  Sure, some things are the same, but his changing priorities have a significant impact on how he manages his time from season to season.  The activities required to plant a field are very different than the things required to harvest it.  The various activities that demonstrate a farmer’s stewardship in one season are different than the activities that demonstrate his stewardship in the next.

This is easy to understand, right?  Let me ask you a question.  Would you consider the farmer to be a good steward if he plowed his field during a time of harvest?  Of course not.  Why?  Plowing the field is what you do to prepare the soil for seed.  Plowing at harvest would destroy the crop.  This isn’t stewardship, it’s stupidity.

Here’s the point.  A commitment to stewardship implies a willingness to allow the change in season to result in a change in activity.

To illustrate further, let’s take a look at how the Bible exposes us to two distinct aspects of time.  Kronos is measured time.  This is where we derive our modern word “chronology.”  The Bible expresses Kronos with references to hours, days, months, years, etc…  Kairos, on the other hand, is seasonal time.  Unlike Kronos, Kairos is not constrained to specific measurements.  Here is an example.

For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers…Acts 13:36, ESV

The “in his own generation” is a reference to the kairos in which God placed David in history.

One of my frustrations with the capital campaign industry in the church space over the past 30 years is that it has fostered a teaching of stewardship that predominately followed the categories of time, talent and treasure.  These are all Kronos expressions.  What has developed is a limited sensitivity and discernment for what stewardship actually is and how stewarding one’s kairos impacts their life.  To illustrate my point, ask someone at church to illustrate the topic of stewardship with a picture.  I’m willing to bet 80% would draw a dollar sign or some other representation of currency.

What does this have to do with succession planning?

Everything!

The Church in America is experiencing a seismic shift in leadership.  Pastors, by the thousands, are aging into a new season of influence.  They are about to enter their retirement years.  As with the farmer, the leaders that do not adjust their activity (Kronos) to the reality of their changing season (Kairos) will no longer demonstrate good stewardship.  Indeed, succession planning is one of the biggest stewardship challenges the Church in America will face over the next 5-7 years.

In the same way the capital campaign industry helped foster a narrow perspective on stewardship, the search industry is fostering a narrow perspective on leadership transitions.  As I wrote in the first post of this series, succession planning and replacement planning are not the same thing.  Trying to navigate a planned leadership transition through the lens of replacement planning is like using a dollar symbol to define stewardship.  Yes, it is part of the conversation, but there is so much more to discuss and account for.

We are at a time where pastors need to be like the men of Issachar; men who understand of their times and know what they ought to do. (1 Chronicles 12:32)

Or, to say it another way, we need pastors who are willing to allow the reality of their changing kairos to determine their kronos.  We need pastors to shift their stewardship.