Succession Planning Is: A Springboard for Leadership 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?


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.



Succession Planning Is Not Replacement Planning

Succession Planning and Replacement Planning are not the same thing.  Replacement planning (i.e. search or recruiting) is but one piece of the overall succession planning process.  Developing a holistic succession planning strategy takes into account a broader range of factors than what a search process is designed for.  To illustrate, here are four key questions an intentional succession plan helps leaders think through.

What leadership transition process makes the most sense for your situation?

There are three basic categories transitions tend to fall under.  We refer to each as the Stop-n-Go, Intentional Interim and Overlap.  Each is a valid option, but used for different reasons.  Knowing the pro’s and con’s for each will help you make an informed decision in selecting the option that best fits your unique situation.

The process selected will have a significant impact on the replacement planning strategy.  Some candidates prefer to step into a Stop-n-Go while others are looking for an Overlap.  The process you select will impact how you develop your candidate profile and influence how you promote the opportunity.

What are the “nuts and bolts” of developing a succession planning strategy?

There are five critical areas every succession planning strategy needs to account for.  Ministries that account for these areas, on purpose or  on accident tend to have healthier leadership transitions.  Ministries that fail to account for these five areas, on purpose or on accident, tend to struggle.  Developing a plan that addresses each area (we refer to them as Signposts) impacts the overall health and effectiveness of your transition.  Replacement Planning is only one of the five areas.

There is a real temptation for organizations to jump prematurely to the Replacement Planning aspect of succession planning and neglect the other four areas.  Failure to account for all five Signposts is one of two critical issues related to poor transitions.  The second issue is tied to an organizations failure to think critically about the implications of the next question.

How prepared are we, from an organizational structure standpoint, to navigate a season of leadership transition?

It’s not uncommon for things that have no direct correlation to the succession planning strategy itself to become the thing that causes significant disruption.  For example, a lack of documentation in your governing documents can become the basis for confusion and possible division.  With appropriate planning there is no need to allow this, or other areas like it, to become a stumbling block.

How do we prepare and lead people through a season of significant leadership transition?

At its core, succession planning is about preparing the people impacted by the transition for what to expect.  Having an intentional strategy won’t alleviate every challenge, but will go a long way in helping those involved feel comfortable enough to invest in the process.  Investing in the development and implementation of a holistic succession planning strategy is one of the best ways to keep people engaged in the process and fight the tendency of taking a “wait and see” attitude.

It is hard to imagine how effective a replacement planning strategy can be without accounting for the questions listed above.  The answers to these questions, and others, have a profound impact on the function of a search team and/or search firm, the unique candidate profile that is developed and how the position is promoted.  The planning that comes from the broader succession conversation also informs the way a new leader is on-boarded into their role and shapes the way the transition is communicated to the broader organization.

If you are facing the reality of a leadership transition let me encourage you to start with the broader issue of succession planning and work from there.  You will have a more effective search process if you do.

In total, this series is three posts long.

Post 1 – Succession Planning Is Not Replacement Planning

Post 2 – Succession Planning Is a Shift In Stewardship

Post 3 – Succession Planning Is a Springboard for Leadership

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You can also follow me on Twitter @willardheath

Click HERE to learn more about how we can help your team address the broader issue of succession planning.

Book Spotlight : Transition Plan – Chapter 5, Life After Retirement

Of the five chapters in Bob Russell’s book Transition Plan we have highlighted this week, this is my favorite.  Bob is a living example of the following principle:

Succession Planning isn’t the last great thing a leader does.  Succession Planning is the gateway to a leader’s greatest season of influence.

Bob is no longer pastoring one of the largest churches in America, but one could make the argument that he is exponentially more influential.  He has encouraged and challenged hundreds, if not thousands, of leaders in both secular and sacred organizations to have the humility and courage to transition well.

Chapter 5, Life After Retirement…

It’s been my observation that the people who plan to retire so they can fish, golf, travel and/or relax are either dead, back to work or become a pain in the neck to their former employer and family within two years. – page 90

I’m enjoying retirement because there is so much to do!  I have really had to scramble to find time to write this book.  But each morning when I get up I have something productive to look forward to.  Every project is in the area of my passion and giftedness. – page 92

Two years after I retired, I was speaking at a civic function.  A local judge seated on the platform, whom I never had met, said, “Bob, I admire what you did at Southeast; but I admire you more for how you left.” – page 94

Retirement is a great opportunity to demonstrate that your self worth is found in your relationship with Jesus, not your self-importance. – page 94

Once you make the decision to take a step as serious as transitioning your leadership position to someone else, you need to throw everything you are into the process. – page 95

Look for every opportunity to not only build up your successor, but also help pave his way. – page 96

The time between the initiation of a transition plan and its execution is fraught with potential pitfalls.  Leaders on their way out, if they aren’t careful, can throw their weight around needlessly to show they are still in charge. – page 97

On pages 100 to 104, Bob gives personal and profound insight into the following question.

Do I believe what I say I believe?

This, in my opinion, is one of the most important sections of Chapter 5 and possibly the entire book.  In his humble, yet direct style, Bob speaks to the one of the most significant issues leaders face as they move to their season of transition – their mortality.

In case you missed them, here are the links for each of the four other posts in this series:

Chapter 1, My Story

Chapter 2, Why Transitions?

Chapter 3, Lessons From Experience, Observation and Research

Chapter 4, Saying Goodbye

Chapter 5, Life After Retirement

I can not recommend this book more highly.  If you are a Pastor, Elder, Board Member, Deacon or serve on some type of transition committee this will be one of the most encouraging and insightful books you can read on the topic of succession planning.  Click HERE to purchase your copy.

And be sure to check back in next week.  Monday’s post is titled “Succession Planning and Replacement Planning Are Not The Same Thing.”

Book Spotlight : Transition Plan – Chapter 4, Saying Goodbye

In case you are just now joining us, I have spent this week highlighting various excerpts from Bob Russell’s book Transition Plan.

Here are links to the previous three posts:

Chapter 1, My Story

Chapter 2, Why Transitions?

Chapter 3, Lessons From Experience, Observation and Research

In his fourth chapter, Bob talks about some of the highlights of how he said “goodbye” to Southeast Christian Church.  The grace and humility with which he left was truly inspiring.

Chapter 4, Saying Goodbye…

Someone compared a ministry transition to conducting a wedding and a funeral at the same time. – page 75

Only when the itch to pay respect and say goodbye is itched will the congregation be ready to move on. – page 76

In the end, probably not one word of what Dave and I said at the transition service will be remembered, but that baton and all it stands for will be remembered for years to come. – page 79

There comes a time to close a chapter.  You can go back and review it and enjoy it, but don’t make the mistake of trying to live in yesterday’s chapter. – page 83.  A quote from Dr. Lewis Foster

The way you say goodbye matters.  Bob’s comments on celebrating the new leader are important principles to account for in your process.

Check back tomorrow for my post on Chapter 5, or better yet, become a subscriber (top right of the page) so my blog posts will be emailed directly to you.

Click HERE to buy a copy of Transition Plan.

Follow me on Twitter @willardheath.

Book Spotlight : Transition Plan – Chapter 3, Lessons from Experience, Observation and Research

The thing I appreciate most about this specific chapter is Bob’s willingness to reflect on practical things that could have been done better to help Dave Stone’s transition into the Senior Pastor role go more smoothly.  You will be hard pressed to a more practical list of insights on the topic of succession planning than in this chapter.

Chapter 3, Lessons from Experience, Observation and Research

God can bless a variety of transitions, but an intentional plan has the best chance for success. – page 57

The character of the persons involved in the transitions much more important than the timing or the strategy. – page 58

Just as locks keep honest people honest, a good transition plan with clear lines of authority and a definite time frame helps avoid conflicts and uncertainty. – page 60

Two years of mentoring and transitioning seems an adequate amount of time. – page 61

The departing leaders should be the initiator of the transition plan, and not the organization. – page 62

The organization should begin early to develop a generous compensation package. – page 63

The successor should share the same values, but not necessarily the same leadership style or temperament. – page 66

A wise successor will practice patience and restraint in implementing changes. – page 67

On pages 65 and 66, Bob spotlights seven insightful questions to consider as your Board or Elders think through developing a retirement package.  It would be a good idea for your leadership and finance teams to consider these as part of the process of developing your transition plan.

If you have not already done so, I would highly recommend you purchase a copy of this book for yourself and your leadership team.

Click HERE to purchase your copy today.

Tomorrow we will be highlighting excerpts from Chapter 4, Saying Goodbye…

In the meantime, follow me on Twitter @willardheath

Book Spotlight : Transition Plan – Chapter 2, Why Transitions?

In the first chapter of Transition Plan, Bob gives us a behind the scenes look at the circumstances that lead to his developing a succession plan at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY.  In chapter two, he begins to unpack the broader issue of why developing a transition plan is so important.

Here are some specific highlights from the chapter.

Chapter 2, Why Transitions?

There are five obvious reasons why every leader needs to think about transitioning. – page 42

The first is that we are all going to die. – page 42

The second reason leaders need to consider transitioning is that we lose energy and imagination as we age. – page 42

The third reason transitions are essential – older leaders almost always lose the ability to inspire younger people. – page 43

There’s a fourth reason for transitioning.  When a proper transition is made, the one stepping aside has another chapter of meaningful life to live and is respected in that role. – page 44

The final and most important reason for transitioning is for the good of the organization. – page 45

The ability/inability to pass the baton successfully determines the ongoing success of the organization and the leader’s legacy. – page 48

The five years I spent with the Elder Board carefully planning and executing the transition process were some of the most important years of my ministry. – page 53

On pages 46 and 47, Bob uses the illustration of a relay race to pull out six powerful principles.  These six ideas alone are worth the price of the book.  You can purchase a copy HERE.

You can also follow along @willardheath

Book Spotlight : Transition Plan – Chapter 1, My Story

In the opening chapter, Bob Russell shares his journey of seeing the need to start making plans for his transition at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY.

The excerpts below are direct quotes from the book.  I included the page number for your reference.

Chapter 1, My Story

The inordinate focus on one man forced us all to ask, “Is the church built on the Pastor, or is it really built on Jesus Christ?” – page 17

I believed with all my heart that what God had anointed Southeast to do was too important to allow ego or lack of vision to interrupt it. – page 17

…most any plan can work if the people involved are ready and willing to sacrifice their egos. – page 23

In retrospect, my retirement was made a lot easier because the planning took much of the emotion out of it. – page 25

Humor and humility were two essential virtues in making the transition successful. – page 28

The final decision that had an impact on the transition was the commitment to not return to a Southeast worship service for a year after my retirement.  Several Elders later confided that they did not see the necessity of this when the idea was first introduced, but later realized the wisdom of it. – page 32

Looking back four years later, I can’t think of any major part of the transition that I would do differently…There are several minor adjustments I would make, however.  First, I would have scheduled a monthly luncheon with Dave Stone following my retirement. – page 35

We could have done better at transitioning the Elders also. – page 36

One other change I would have made was to be more understanding of my wife’s feelings about the approaching transition. – page 36

I’ve discovered the greatest period of your life is when the kids are grown, the bills are paid and the dog’s dead! – page 38

I’m thankful I stepped away when I did, proving that the church belongs to Jesus. – page 38

Come back tomorrow for a sneak peak into Chapter 2, Why Transitions?  Or, you can subscribe to my blog and it will be emailed to you.

You can also follow along @willardheath.

Click HERE to purchase a copy.

Passages to Challenge the Heart of Leaders in Transition

I’ll never forget my very first observation about succession planning.

Succession planning is personal long before it becomes tactical.

This was the “big idea” God used to get my attention in this area. A mentor of mine trusted me enough to open up and talk through the fears he had relating to his eventual retirement. At the time he was over 10 years away from retiring. The conversation was personal and left a deep impression.

Since that moment, this principal has become a primary filter for how I serve leaders in seasons of transition.

I like what Marshall Goldsmith wrote in his book Succession, Are You Ready.

“Academic” literature generally ignores the fact that CEO’s – and their successors – are human beings. Very little of what is written deals with the “soft” personal issues like relationships, self-interest, ego, or (God forbid) feelings! – Preface: Memo to the CEO, page XIV

His book is written to those in the “C” Suite, but his comments apply to leaders in both secular and sacred nonprofit organizations.

To help you process the personal side of succession planning, here are five biblical passages to read and reflect upon. Take one at a time. Read them slow and in context. Reflect on specific, personal applications. Record your thoughts in a journal. Pray with your spouse.

A Pattern to Follow – Numbers 8:23-26

This is the only passage in scripture that speaks directly to the topic of retirement based transitions. It is God’s instruction to Moses on how to manage the Levite work force as they age. The insights in this passage stand as a stark contrast to how retirement is viewed by those of us living in a western, capitalistic culture.  For the Levites, retirement represented a shift in ministry activity.  All too many pastors today fear that retirement will mark the end of their influence.

A Lament to Wrestle With – Ecclesiastes 2:18-21

It seems understandable, natural even, for the leaders that invest their lives to build something would lament the fact that someone else would step into their shoes. Solomon’s concerns expressed in this passage seem to resonate in the hearts of many leaders today.

A Change in Identity – Deuteronomy 3:23-29

Mount Pisgah marked a profound shift in Moses’ identity as leader. Climbing the mountain, his primary identity as leader was centered around leading Israel into Canaan. Coming down, his primary focus was preparing Joshua. A careful look at verses 23-26 reveal this had been something Moses struggled with for quite some time.

A Desire for the People – Numbers 27:12-23

Numbers 27:12-23 and Deuteronomy 3:23-29 are parallel passages that provide different insights into the same moment – God confronting Moses with his need to implement a succession plan. Even though Moses experienced great frustration in leading Israel, this passage spotlights his genuine concern for their well-being. He was concerned more for their future in his absence than his personal legacy.

A Passion to Protect – 2 Kings 20:16-19

To truly appreciate this specific passage you must read the full account found in 2 Kings 18 thru 21:9. Hezekiah’s story stands as a profound example of how zeal and passion can diminish over time. At 25 he had the audacity to destroy the Bronze Serpent that Moses build some 700 years prior (2 Kings 18:4). By the end of his career he was willing to trade his personal comfort for the future of Israel. His zeal was gone.

As you study this passage pay special attention to 2 Kings 20:6 and 2 Kings 21:1. God extended Hezekiah’s life 15 years and moved the nation into a season of peace and prosperity. It was during this time that Manasseh, his son and successor, was born. Manasseh was 12 when he became King. The son’s perspective of God was shaped by his father’s leadership while in a season of peace. He never knew his father as man that depended on God. One can’t help but wonder how much that played into his attitude towards God during his tenure as king.

A Prayer of Reflection – 1 Chronicles 29:10-19

This is the last, or one of the last, recorded prayers of King David. Unlike Hezekiah, David’s passion for the Lord burned bright to the very end. It is not the words of this prayer that make it unique. It is not so different that many other prayers of reflection that can be found throughout history. What makes this prayer special is the point in David’s life in which he uttered it. Indeed, there are certain prayers that can only be voiced by those who have given their life, their length of days, to the service and glory of God.

I pray these passages would serve as both a source of encouragement and warning as you reflect upon the reality of your eventual transition.

And remember…Succession planning isn’t the last great thing you will do as a leader.  Succession planning is the gateway to your greatest season of influence.

Let me know if there is any way we can serve you in this season. It would be our honor to do so.

The Personal Side of Succession  

I was recently on the phone with a pastor that wants to start the process of succession planning. Our time on the phone was another reminder of how personal the issue of succession planning is.

Our call started out like so many others. He and the Executive Pastor gave me the background of the church. They listed some of the issues they think need to be addressed over the next five to seven years. They asked for my initial thoughts and other questions related to how I go about helping churches like theirs. We talked for about 45 minutes before his Executive Pastor had to leave for another appointment.

Once it was just Bob, the Sr. Pastor, on the line I took the opportunity to get a little more personal. I asked a simple question…

 “How are you and your wife handling the idea of your eventual retirement?”

The tone completely changed!! The initial part of the call was all about organizational priorities. Now, we were able to start digging into his personal motivations.  Here is a summary of what we talked about:

He wants to stay involved with the church after he retires

The fear of hurting people by not transitioning well is a significant motivation

What will he do next?

His wife’s transition is just as important as his

He is wondering what their financial future will look like

Succession Planning is bigger than hiring the right person, developing leaders or making sure the organization doesn’t lose momentum.  Don’t get me wrong – these things are important. But in the process of addressing the organizational side of succession planning we must be careful not lose sight of our opportunity to help the retiring leader wrestle through their personal fears and concerns.