The importance of communication is the final topic on Success in Succession. I hope that you will take one or two of the recommendations from this series and utilize them when you are faced with the opportunity of succession. I pray that it’s been a blessing to you and, if so, please let me know.
Communicating a succession strategy is critical between the incumbent and the successor, as well as to the team, the donors, and the community so that everyone will understand the plan. They also need to see the plan walked out in front of them and to hear continual updates on how the process is going. I have had many conversations with all of the above about passing on the leadership baton of both Teen Challenge Southeast Region and Global Teen Challenge.
Once you and/or your board have identified your successor - whether raised up from within the organization or recruited from the outside - it is key that you have a pathway and process in place for the transition of leadership. And remember to communicate that plan often.
Respectful and clear communication between the incumbent and successor is necessary while walking out the plan. Over the last two years, I have had multiple meetings with both successors and have talked out concerns and strategies. We have not always seen eye-to-eye on everything, but we have been open and honest in our communications. As a result, we have all grown closer and we have developed a deeper trust in one another.
Poor communication and a lack of trust and mutual respect will often hamper the succession process. There can be confusion and strife if both parties lack good communication skills. You must be both committed and willing to make the extra effort.
In my case, I recruited both of my successors into the organization and had them serve as Chief Operations Officers for a period of time before they became presidents/CEOs. I told the board about them, brought them to the board meetings, and had them give reports, and I gave the board plenty of time to get to know them as leaders. I also introduced them to their respective staff, telling them about the process I was walking the successors through in order to be considered for the President/CEO roles. I was purposeful in putting these leaders in front of the boards, staff, and other Teen Challenge (TC) leaders before they were given the full authority of the President/CEO roles.
I think it is important to begin the process of transition at least one or two years out. In this timeframe, you can create a comfortable process for discussion of vision, values, goals, and personal convictions, which helps to develop relationships and trust. This is where fine-tuning and mentoring will occur as you really get to know one another.
Let me say it again, communication of the succession plan and process and how the plan will roll out are vital to every stakeholder in the organization. Your words and your deeds will testify to your commitment to the process and, in fact, assure either the success or failure of the plan.
A positive attitude throughout the process also greatly enhances success. As you walk the succession process out, there will be some challenging days and conversations. Don’t be alarmed by a few rough spots as they are a normal part of the process. We are all different as leaders and we all place different values on what we see as most important. This gives room for growth for both individuals as we keep a positive attitude and an open mind.
Here are some possible ways that incumbents can set up a win for our successors:
Share Speaking and Teaching Responsibilities
By doing this, you will contribute towards the growth of the team's confidence in the new leader. This is where you also can work on skill sets that need to be developed and work on building relational equity.
Share Time in the Board of Directors (BOD) Meetings and with Key Donors
You want the BOD members to be comfortable with the leadership skills of the successor long before they take full control of running the organization. So share time in meetings for them to get to know the successor. It’s important to remember that donors tend to fund leaders, not organizations. Donor relationships are key and it is vital that the incumbent introduce the successor to the key donors and stakeholders.
COVID19 hurt my plan to go to the eight regions of the world and introduce Steve Trader as our incoming President of Global Teen Challenge. I had planned to have the time and opportunity to share speaking opportunities with Steve to provide global TC leaders a chance to hear his heart and passion for Teen Challenge. Steve bridged the gap by going and communicating with directors around the world via Zoom. He has consistently spent time and energy developing relationships with our stakeholders around the world.
Cheer from the Stands
Celebrate the exchange with a key event or at least a ceremony, so everyone knows who is now in charge. Celebrate the life of one leader as he/she retires and/or takes on a different role in the organization and, at the same time, support the vision of the new leader.
Recognize the giftings of the successor and point out their strengths to your staff, board, and donors. Cheer them on and keep a positive attitude. Remember, they are not you and they will do things differently than you would. It is imperative that we don’t let ourselves fall into the trap of questioning the changes and or talking behind the back of the successor. Outgoing leaders own this process and put our insecurities in check to be an example of what it means to be a mature leader.
Be careful of letting your ego get out of hand when your loyal friends express what a loss you will be and how the new leader will never step into your shoes. Be mindful of your own insecurities, as they will ooze out of pores you never knew you had and surprise you at the most inopportune times in the letting go process. Because of the time it takes to truly pass the baton effectively, time is not your friend. The longer your plan is, the more disciplined you must be in each of these principles.
Support the Successor’s Recruitment of Their Own Team
Your successor will need the freedom to begin building his/her own team. When positions open up in the final year/months, don’t do the hiring, but delegate it to your successor. He/she is the one who is going to work with new employees longer than you will. And remember, if you were to hire someone who fails, you would get the blame, but if the successor does the hiring, he/she has to deal with the hire.
Be sure that your successor is engaged in building the right team to move the mission forward, recruiting a good balance of “big vision” people along with systems-oriented or operationally-inclined people.
Now just a month away from officially passing the baton and stepping into my new role, I am feeling more and more confident that I am in God's will and feeling assured that I will continue to utilize my God-given gifts in my new role.
Let me say that it has truly been a privilege to serve Teen Challenge Southeast Region as well as Global Teen Challenge these past 31 years. I count it a joy to reflect back and know God has in some way used Libby and me to help expand the vision of putting hope within reach of every addict.
I will continue to do so as I work to bring donors into a relationship with Teen Challenge, both here in the U.S. and around the world. As you know, God is in control and He owns it all. We only have ONE donor and it is God! He will enable us to press forward in spite of the challenges we face, which are simply an opportunity to trust Him and see His full authority and glory revealed. As long as we don’t complain, we will pass the test. I want to pass this test of succession and pray that my attitudes, actions, and witness will testify to God's grace.
Libby and I love each and every leader – in each and every country. We never meet a stranger in the TC family and we have given our lives to this ministry and have done it willingly. We live to serve!
God Bless you as you lead!