How to Make Leadership Succession Work

A Personal View

Back in my college days, I lived across the hall from Larry Stockstill, who would eventually become pastor of Bethany Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Back in the day, he led worship on campus, but he was also one of the stars on our intramural football and basketball teams! Needless to say, he’s always been a fascinating leader. But one of his greatest accomplishments is


How You Should Leave a Legacy

I’ve been involved in a great many organizations transitioning to next generation leadership, and the issue of “legacy” always comes up. How should the founder be remembered? When should the founder let go? The Billy Graham organization asked some of those questions when they designed their library and museum in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Many nonprofit and ministry organizations are making that transition right now, and when it comes to the hand-off, here are some thoughts:


Why Pastors and Ministry Leaders Have Difficulty Retiring

When I read a story on how difficult it is for writers, artists, and rock stars to retire, (May 20th in the U.K.’s Telegraph) by Critic Neil McCormick, I immediately thought of pastors and ministry leaders. Granted, they’re not famous writers or rock stars (at least most of them) but generally speaking, they don’t lead normal working lives. While they work very hard, they don’t have typical 8 to 5 jobs, don’t slave at a desk, can determine their own schedule, can be intensively creative, and are passionate about their work – I know, because my dad in the photo was a pastor, and even after a stroke, only stepped down after he fell in the pulpit.  They love the job – which makes retirement quite difficult. Pastors and leaders – don’t be offended, but 


Pope Benedict’s Retirement: Are Church and Nonprofit Leaders Watching?

I was so impressed by the retirement announcement from Pope Benedict, that for a minute or two, I almost became a Catholic. His courage in facing the reality of declining health, potentially poor decision making, and the toll on his psyche was admirable. In spite of the pressure (no Pope has retired in 600 years) he had the integrity to make the right decision. Now contrast that with many pastors, ministry, and nonprofit leaders. With media ministries, they stay on the air way past their ability to not embarrass themselves. They fumble around, say inappropriate things, and generally make the Church look foolish to the world. Long time pastors aren’t much different. They


Why Some Pioneering Christian Media Ministries Survived

So in the wake of my last post on why so many pioneering Christian media ministries collapsed, why did some others survive? What did they have that others didn’t? Did God just bless them more, or are there identifiable traits that we could focus on and learn for the future. I think the latter’s true, and here’s a few thoughts why some pioneering media ministries have not just survived, but thrived:


When Legends Leave

The death of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs has made me think more and more about how organizations transition from strong, charismatic leaders.  Looking at how companies transitioned from men like Walt Disney, Sam Walton, Bill Gates, and now Steve Jobs has many implications for nonprofit and ministry organizations as well.  Right now, the Christian community is experiencing a huge period of transitions from founders of extraordinarily large ministries.  Men like Bill Bright, Jerry Falwell, and Oral Roberts have passed away, and others like Robert Schuller, Pat Robertson, Paul Crouch Sr, James Dobson, Billy Graham and many others are either retiring or in semi-retirement.   So far, the scorecard on how many of these organizations are doing isn’t very good.  Rakesh Khurana, professor at Harvard Business School has said: “The difference between a cult and a religion is that


Think Twice Before Succeeding a Legendary Leader

One of the most difficult challenges any leader can face is to take the job as the successor to a great leader. Legendary leaders are often founders, or have guided the organization through great growth and/or difficult times, and in doing that, leaves a mark. People remember great leaders, and to step into their shadow is to risk a great deal. Strategic advisor James Lukaszewski says that once a successor is announced, if the transition doesn’t happen quickly, it will almost always fail. Why?

Because we’re all human, and if you don’t move the founder or leader out of the way, he’ll spend his time torpedoing the incoming successor. He doesn’t overtly mean to do it, but by having in effect two leaders, the senior will he’ll meddle, he’ll criticize, he’ll use his friendships on the board to block new ideas he doesn’t agree with. It happens in business (see Jack Welch’s criticism of Jeffrey Immelt at GE), it happens in non-profits, and it happens in churches. It even happens with fathers and sons (see Robert Schuller and the Crystal Cathedral – and many others).

In my experience across the business and non-profit spectrum, the first successor is often just a target. Sadly, history shows that he takes the hits long enough for a second successor to eventually be found who can really succeed. By the time the second successor arrives, either the legendary leader is retired, given up his influence, or the board has neutralized his influence for the survival of the organization.

The tragedy in all of this is that the first successor is often a brilliant leader, and the perfect person for the job.But he never gets off on the right foot, and never has a chance to spread his wings.In my experience he often goes on to accomplish great things at other organizations.

There’s no question that sometimes, a successor is the wrong choice and should be ousted. And it also doesn’t mean these legendary leaders are jerks or power hungry. But as I mentioned, we’re all human. Giving up control – particularly of something you created – is very difficult, and the idea of someone else leading a different way is hard to take.

Be very careful when you’re offered the job to succeed a legendary leader. Don’t forget your flak jacket…

Comments (11) |

The Generational Transition We Face with Major Churches and Ministries

I believe Christian media is facing the greatest generational transition in the history of our culture. The first generation pioneers like Billy Graham, Oral Roberts, Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, D. James Kennedy, Robert Schuller, Pat Robertson, Paul Crouch, and others, have either passed away, retired, or aren’t as intensely involved in their ministries as they used to be. The implications of this transition are more critical that many might believe. For instance: