With the team I lead at LifeWay, I regularly discuss succession with those on my team. Props goes to Earl Roberson, the associate VP in our division, for encouraging me in this several years ago, setting the example, and operationalizing the practice with our team. We have discussions about who would be ready to move to a broader role, and specifically we ask: “Who is showing that he/she would be ready to move into your role if something happened to you?”
In the last 18 months, I have moved two leaders into roles of significantly greater responsibility (in terms of number of employees to oversee, budget to manage, etc.) that routinely showed up on the leader’s “potential succession” document. The transitions have been smooth and the ministry has continued. I don’t think this is only for large organizations but applies to local churches as well. Knowing whom you will pursue for new opportunities or vacant roles is critical in kids ministry, in student ministry, and in the church as a whole. Here are three reasons you must routinely engage in thinking about succession for people on your team.
1. Opportunities will come.
There are new opportunities that will come that are not on your strategic plan. In fact, many people question the wisdom in having a long-term strategic plan as the world is changing so rapidly and it is unlikely that you can predict what your best opportunity will be. Some would say that strategic preparation trumps strategic planning—that the goal is to prepare people for the opportunities that will come. Who is going to lead the new opportunities? Who is going to assume more responsibility? By having discussions about who can move into an existing role, you simultaneously are identifying leaders who could be given a new opportunity.
2. Development takes time.
When an existing role is suddenly open, there is no way to immediately prepare someone for it. Development takes time and intentionality. If you wait to prepare someone for a role until the person moves into the role, you have waited too long. The two people whom I have recently given significantly more responsibility to were routinely placed in environments with our team. They have already understood our strategy, our values, and even read the books our team has read. Prepare people for the role they will have, not the role they are currently in.
3. This world is broken.
We live in a fallen and broken world. Sin has impacted everything, and daily we face the implications of a fallen world. People on our teams can get sick, can face horrible tragedies, and sadly can even disqualify themselves from leading. The theological reality of a fallen world should motivate leaders for the practical discipline of succession thinking.