9: How to Pull Off Successful Leadership Transitions

Every leader faces transition sooner or later.? And every church and ministry and business faces changes in leadership.? Transitions especially at the top can be very successful or extremely volatile.

I hope you listen to my newest podcast on pulling off successful leadership transitions.

Contents of the Show:

Many leadership transitions end up being explosions!
Many leadership transitions end up being explosions!
  1. A brief summary of my own transition after 20 years.
  2. The Ten Tips for Making it work well – applies to a lot of leadership transitions
  3. Barriers to successful transitions
  4. A few final applications for you to prepare for your eventual exit

Why do we need to do it right?

What happens to organizations when a leader abruptly leaves and there is no obvious


The potential harm done to churches and organizations:

  • ? ? ?Broken trust that is transferred to the new leader.
  • ? ? ?Loss of respect for leadership in general.
  • ? ? ?Doubt about the board of directors.
  • ? ? ?Organizational drift.
  • ? ? ?Lost momentum–many initiatives come to a stand still.
  • ? ? ?Lost membership–people leave.
  • ? ? ?Lost staff and employees–no one wants to work in a leaderless quagmire.
  • ? ? ?Wasted money and other resources.
  • ? ? ?Discouragement and despair for the rank and file who choose to stay
  • ? ? ?General uncertainly for the troop, members and employees.

Top Ten Tips for Making Leadership Transitions Work Well

Lesson # 1:? The longer the seasoned leader has been in place, the more there is to lose and the more danger there is in the handover of power.
Lesson # 2: Leaders do more damage staying too long that by leaving too soon.
Lesson # 3: In order for it to work, there must be a three way partnership between the outgoing leader, the board and the leadership team committed to making it work.
Lesson # 4: Honor the departing leader as much as the incoming one.
Lesson # 5: Recognize that it will take time for the troops to transfer their loyalty to the new leader
Lesson # 6:? Spend the money and take the time to do a good search for the new leader.
Lesson #7:? Pray, pray?and then pray more about the search process.
Lesson #8: Over communicate about the process to the troops.
Lesson #9: Honor your successor and your predecessor (Everyone has one of each)
Lesson #10:? If at all possible, have a baton passing ceremony.


There are as many unsuccessful leadership transitions as there are successful ones. I imagine that everyone has witnessed firsthand a leadership transfer that went wrong. The reasons for such fiascos vary but most often include one or more of the following:

The organization doesn?t like the new person.
The new person doesn?t like the organization.
The new person?s family can?t adjust to the new city they?moved to.
There is a corporate culture conflict: Values and beliefs?don?t match.
The leader fails miserably in his newly assigned responsibilities: He lacks the ability, capacity, experience, or?knowledge to do the job well.
The old guard sabotages the efforts of the new leader. T The old leader sabotages the efforts of the new leader. T The old leader fails to leave, or reappears.
The new leader lacks persistence in implementing changes. T The new leader is recruited away by a better offer or challenge.
The new leader fails to win a following because of poor?interpersonal skills.

A few real world applications

  • If you are looking for a new leader – time is the variable and the right candidate is the constant!
  • I recognize that many times churches and groups have a gap between leaders. ?In that case, a baton passing and some of these other things don’t apply.
  • Do your homework – develop a profile of what you are looking for and stick with it!
  • Honor and care for those who have poured themselves out for you – they might just be spent and burned out due to serving you. ?They deserve a lot of love and grace on the way out!
  • IF you are the leader – insist that your board has a succession plan for WHEN the time comes.

Book of the show to recommend: Tommy Thomas – The Perfect Search ?(Credo House)
Quote of the show: Success without a successor is failure. ?(Hans Finzel)


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