SEAN MORGAN
Interim Director
Leadership Network

Studies show that senior leader transitions are the most impactful seasons in an organization’s lifecycle.

About half of the American Protestant church will undergo planned leadership transitions in the next decade. 

In 2011 Apple’s founder Steve Jobs died, and Apple has been criticized for a lack of innovation since.  Steve’s successor, Tim Cook, was the COO and, naturally, Apple has been run for the last 9 years with a long-term, operational focus.  In fact, the entire creative side of Apple has been passed to Jon Ivy—who, while under Jobs, led hardware design only.

Apple’s once famed and highly anticipated product releases are now blasé.

Though many don’t recall, Steve Jobs had another successor at Apple.  PepsiCo’s CEO John Sculley led Apple after Jobs was ousted from the company he founded.  The 10 years Sculley led Apple were the worst in its history and resulted in the board bringing Jobs back in 1993.

Leadership transitions matter.

Though daunting, a new senior leader transition represents the greatest opportunity to move your church forward in its mission—likely more than anything in the last 10+ years and anything in the next 10+ years.

Unfortunately, there are very few resources available to help leaders lead after the baton pass, and there’s even less available to help staff manage things as “bridge leaders” in times of transition.

3 Keys to Help You Find Your Stride as a New Senior Leader

If you’re in a season of transition, here are 3 keys to help you find your stride and usher in a season of health and growth:

The Honeymoon

The first 6-12 months are generally thought of as the honeymoon season.  It’s for good reason.  The early days are often filled with a sense of unity and energy.  It may be that the team is truly thriving, but it’s more likely that you simply haven’t encountered any storms where you’ve been tested yet.

  • If you’re the senior leader, use this season to show you care about the mission and the people who do it
  • If you’re a staff member, realize that you have a natural tendency to see the past better than a new leader will.  Be willing to release some of the grip you have on the way things have been and to catch some fresh vision.

Change

After the honeymoon, a new leader will inevitably begin making deeper changes to the organization.  While these changes may be what’s needed, they will encounter the culture of the organization in ways that often make everyone feel like someone moved their cheese.  We all know the feeling.

  • If you’re the senior leader, ensure the changes you make are strategic changes and worth the chips they will cost you.  If you can wait, it is usually a good idea to wait.  Most new senior leaders are overly eager to make changes and fail to realize how much leadership equity changes cost them.  Later, when they make a subsequent change, they find they don’t have the trust and goodwill they thought they had.
  • If you’re on staff, work to be a peacemaker.  Never have a conversation that builds dissension or allow one to take place in your presence.  If you have a concern, voice it with love and respect in the appropriate way to the leader who is making the decision.

Renewal

Once changes solidify and both structure and culture move in the ways designed by the new senior leader, most organizations plateau.  After leading through a challenging season, it’s only human to want to throttle back some.  If you’re not careful, a culture of complacency can quickly set in.

  • If you’re the senior leader, this is the time to ensure you have a fresh perspective on what’s working and what’s not.  Don’t “rest on your laurels.” Instead, approach this season by asking the question, “What would a new senior leader do if I were to step away today.”
  • If you’re on staff, be a conduit of accurate information to the leadership.  They will naturally be insulated from much of the ministry.  It’s extraordinarily helpful to have a staff team that doesn’t sugarcoat stories to make themselves look good, but rather helps keep things on a path of continual improvement.

The Ascent Leader

One of the ways we help meet the needs of senior leaders of church transitions is by gathering them in cohorts with top-level peers and journeying together with access to world-class transition leader mentors.

We’ve seen more ministry fruit from these cohorts than anything else we’ve done to develop leaders.

In 2021 we will be kicking off several new transitions cohorts.  Check them out and apply here

Here are a few quotes from leaders that have gone through The Ascent with us:

“One of the most moving, important, and needed times in my leadership journey.” –Kevin Queen, Lead Pastor at Crosspoint Church

“I benefited from this immensely.” –Josh Surratt, Lead Pastor at Seacoast Church

“Pivotal to my leadership.” –Chris Brown, Lead Pastor at Northcoast Church

“Life-giving, ministry-shaping, friendship building experience.” –Ben Snyder, Lead Pastor at CedarCreek Church

“The best days for my soul this year.” –Chris Fletcher, Manna Church

Until next week, Grace & Peace.

JOIN AN ASCENT COHORT

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Our role is to foster innovation movements that activate THE CHURCH to greater impact for the Glory of God’s name. What began in 1984 with 20 leaders now serves over 200,000 leaders all over the world. Find out more about Leadership Network and our Mission here.

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