I believe Christian media is facing the greatest generational transition in the history of our industry. For the most part, 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. I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in numerous transitions from a variety of first generation to second generation leaders. Those transitions run the gamut from easy successions to not so easy, even to the point where attorneys, contracts, and difficult negotiations were involved.
If you knew some of the stories of how messy some successions of pastors and ministry leaders have been you’d be shocked. It’s an important issue because some of the largest and most influential religious media organizations have recently been through a similar transition or will be going through one soon. The implications of these transitions are more critical than many might believe.
For instance: — It means a transition in leadership styles.
First generation leaders are often highly creative, driven, and relentless. They are founders, and the incredible energy and passion it takes to create “lift off” for an organization leaves little time for anything else. As a result, most first generation leaders don’t value teamwork, have charismatic personalities that inspire great loyalty (sometimes with egos to match), and focus like lasers, sometimes at the expense of their own families. They know what they want, when they want it, and how they want it delivered. They are specific. As a result, their influence lives long after they’ve left the day to day arena.
In fact, if the second generation leader isn’t strong enough to assert his or her authority and style, he or she could spend their leadership years living the founder’s vision rather than their own.
By contrast, most second generation leaders are more comfortable with technology, value teamwork, and legislate through consensus. They tend to be less driven, and rather than pushing so hard to create the organization, are able to re-focus management on expansion or new markets. They have a more balanced family life, and are much more comfortable with dealing with outside criticism and media coverage.
There are pluses and minuses to both styles, but because of the dramatic difference, organizations that are experiencing generational change often convulse under the stress. Managers and employees suddenly have to switch gears, adjust expectations, and change their thinking. Those that recognize the change adapt quickly, but others, stumble, and often fail.
The bottom line? It’s never too early to start working on the transition. Even when first generation leaders aren’t ready to give up the spotlight, if you don’t start moving in that direction, should disability, illness, or death stop the founder, you’ll find that financial support will nosedive if a sense of trust hasn’t been established between your donors and the next generation leader.