The Hand Off – Organizational Succession

This past week I had an opportunity to watch something that is a fairly uncommon phenomenon anywhere. When you check the history of faith based organizations, Fortune 500 companies, small businesses, educational institutions, government entities,and the list could go on and on, SUCCESSIONS doesn’t happen well. It just doesn’t!

Passing a batonThere is normally a critical need that drives succession like death, sickness, or an individual or organizational challenge that has arisen (insert here moral failure, politics, unmet expectations, and so on). Whatever the “reason” the conversation around succession is mostly awkward, uneasy, and hard to even broach.

A number of years ago, I was personally involved in a succession gone awry. And I can speak first hand and up close that it’s one of the most painful and life disruptive life events that can happen to someone (and their families). When leaders don’t handle succession well it NEVER just impacts them, but impacts scores of people who are personally invested in the organization and connected to the vision of those leaders. Beyond those connected in the present, a bad succession impacts those who may venture around in the future of the organization. And even more so, it impacts those who will hear about or read the history of the organization.  I’ll write more about these two ideas later. The big idea here is that the collateral damage is huge! Strike that, it’s epically colossal (this may not be an appropriate phrasing, but it explains how big of an impact it makes).

BUT this week, I was able to watch one leader who founded an organization DECIDE on his own accord that it was time for a baton pass. As a high level leader within the organization, I had one of the front row seats to see this succession behind the scenes.  While there are a lot of questions, and moments to pause, I saw Bishop Paul Morton unselfishly say that his vision was bigger than he is and needed another set of legs now to run the next leg of the race.

For five years I have seen this organization set up a transition team, work through hard questions, do a short term and long term organizational assessment, ignore those matters that were really insignificant (some wanted to make mountains out of molehills), and even acknowledge the elephants in the room.  Make no mistake, while I don’t know every aspect of it, I know enough to know it hasn’t been a cakewalk. But nonetheless, it was happening! That alone is commendable! Dog on it, it’s admirable.

I believe that it establishes a major precedent of how things should be done. It isn’t the first one to ever be done, but it is one of the most visible for a reformation of this nature.

It proves that transitions don’t have to be messy or dishonorable to individuals involved.

It proves that individuals can reinvent themselves and organizations can make a shift.

It proves that character and humility and character win every time! Every time!

It proves that reinventing relationships doesn’t have to be dishonorable.

It proves that you can leave well and start well.

It proves that serving and leading go together.

I am not writing because there haven’t been a few frustrating moments with the transition. I AM writing because I have a heart to see transition and succession happen well.

Right after my personal life event of seeing transition go bad, God opened the door for me to serve at a place where a succession had happened eleven years before I joined the organization. That too was a successful transition, not without its challenges.

Today, I want to raise the idea that a successful succession IS possible. It’s possible!

Speaker and consultant, Dr. Sam Chand, has long spoke about a “tsunami of successions” that will happen over the next few decades.

I believe if sitting leaders don’t have the courage, selflessness, financial preparation, and long term vision, we will continue to see bad baton hand offs. Indeed the majority of the responsibility of succession is in the court of the sitting leader, but there’s a role to play for the incoming leadership and the leadership of the organization.

When these three entities find synergy, the organization and ultimately the vision of the organization, can win.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll share:

1) What I learned from my personal experience; 

2) What I see when succession works well; 

3) Questions organizations need to answer regarding succession; and finally, 

4) how succession impacts the present and future of the organization 

This series of blog posts will be some of the most transparent posts that I’ve shared as I’m now a number of years removed and healed from one of the most difficult moments in my life.

If I can help you or your organization with questions around succession, I’d love to connect with you.

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