Three Critical​ Steps In Leading Organizational Transitions

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Life is about transitions.  Whether that transition is from diapers to walking, from High School to college, or more life altering from dependence to independence. And the final crossing over, from death to life.  Each evolution comes with a certain uncertainty and fear. Leaders in those moments of change face a test of their leadership skills.  Your leadership range is measured by your ability to empower and equip others for the next horizon, the next chapter of the organizations’ story.

I remember years ago witnessing a leadership meltdown.  The elected leader was now in control of a large million-dollar non-profit organization.  As the new head got into office, he discovered that the former chief financial officer used some creative accounting practices to balance the books.  While the practices weren’t illegal it gave the impression that the organization was healthy.  It wasn’t, it was hemorrhaging money and had been for years.  The new CEO discovered this right before his first meeting with the stakeholders.  As I recall that meeting, the CEO had this awkward deer-in-the-headlight look about him.  He appeared overwhelmed by the situation in his first six months of leadership.  He overacted.  He panicked and fired executive staff who had nothing to do with the current or previous financial situation.

It was a turning point for the new CEO and the organization.  It sent a clear message ‘we are doing something’, but are we doing the right something?  Here is the message being sent.  “We are cutting services while demanding a higher level of commitment from our customers.” Situations like that will challenge organizations to find a resolution.  A crisis will occur in every organization’s life cycle however, leaders need to be clear about desired outcomes and the company’s mission. In this post, the question is, how do you prepare your organization for the next chapter of its journey?  From the real-life story above that did not happen.  That transition was not smooth or even well thought out.

There are three keys was to ensure you as a leader help pilot your people into the next chapter.

  1. Focus on Building Character

9 While they were crossing, Elijah asked Elisha, “What should I do for you before I’m taken from you?” Elisha answered, “Let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” 10 Elijah said, “You have asked for something difficult. If you see me taken from you, it will be yours. Otherwise, it will not.” 11 As they continued walking and talking, a fiery chariot with fiery horses separated the two of them, and Elijah went to heaven in a windstorm. 2 Kings 2:9–11 (GW)

Elijah’s career ends when the prophet was picked up by a Holy Uber transport. Elijah is taken away in a windstorm accompanied by a fiery chariot.   Before Elijah takes this final ride, Elisha, who had refused on three separate occasions to leave his side, saying, “I solemnly swear, as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not abandon you.” Now he requests a double portion of his spirit.  Elijah basically responds that is not mine to give, but it will be if Elisha sees him as he is taken up.  Elisha watches him until he disappears, and then tears his clothes in two and takes up Elijah’s mantle. And the mantle is passed from one great prophet to another.  Often, there is a major drop-off in the quality in the succession.  It has little to do with abilities but more so character.  Solomon had greater wisdom than his father David but he lacked the king’s character.  One of the key roles a transitioning leader plays in championing the next horizon is to find staff with high character.  Before you turn over the reign and empower the next group of leaders, make sure you are building character in your organization.

  1. Build Character through relationships

Think ahead to your next question, and how exactly do you build character?  You build character through relationships.

6 Elijah said to Elisha, “Please stay here because the Lord is sending me to the Jordan River.” Elisha answered, “I solemnly swear, as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not abandon you.” 7 Fifty disciples of the prophets stood at a distance as Elijah and Elisha stood by the Jordan River. 2 Kings 2:6-7 (GW)

Bible scholars believe that Elisha served Elijah for six years before Elijah was ushered into heaven. During this time, a test of the strength of their relationship was placed before Elisha. It is apparent that due to his age Elijah’s final journey was near. Elijah three times told Elisha to stay behind, but each time his successor refused to leave his side. While others were watching from a distance, Elisha wanted a close-up and personal view of what God would do in Elijah’s life.  Elisha was rewarded for his perseverance with a double portion of Elijah’s spirit.  The character of Elisha was formed through that six-year relationship.  Relationships like this take time.  Character formation then takes time.

  1. Have the right outcomes.

Finally, to help shape the next chapter in your organization you need to focus on the right outcomes.  Are my settings of the outcomes God-directed and kingdom oriented? One important lesson I learned early in ministry is that you don’t control people you control outcomes.  Trying to control people is pointless and frustrating.  Your goal in ministry is to create shared ownership of the vision and mission that will lead to the kingdom expansion many of us are seeking.  To be clear I am not talking about numeric growth, the Holy Spirit controls that outcome.  However, if you expand the number of people who are involved in carrying out the mission and vision you will expand the reach and impact of the ministry.

Transitions are hard to manage but I pray these three steps give you the tools to make that transition a little smoother.

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