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How To Lead Well Through Transition

Posted by Tracey Smith on 4/24/17 7:22 AM

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Here at Vanderbloemen, we consult with churches and ministries about organizational and leadership transition. Transition is an inescapable part of leadership, but how you manage transition is what is the most important. Over my 23 years of ministry, I experienced three major leadership transitions.

If you are currently leading through a transition or have one coming up, here are a few things to remember that can help you lead well through that change.

1. Have a plan.

Many transitions go strangely wrong because the leader(s) does not have a plan. Sit down with your church's leadership team and write down your goals, objectives, roles, and timeframe for this transition. The plan may need to be tweaked during the transition, but at least you have tracks to run on.

2. Clearly define leadership roles.

Next, clearly define the roles the leadership will be taking throughout this change - especially your own role. During transition, people need and want to know who is in leading and what they are leading during the change. If the roles are not clearly defined, this will cause confusion and much unneeded frustration. Make sure each department or ministry has a clearly defined leader or point person. This will help bring clarity and help relieve some of the stress that accompanies internal change. It will also ease the onset of office politics and jockeying for positions among fellow co-workers.

3. Over-communicate.

You, as the leader, may feel like you have either heard the facts or talked about them too many times already, but always remember: your team is not a part of all the conversations that you are privileged to hear. You may be excited about the change because you have a clear picture with all the details involved, but organizational change will often bring anxiety among your team. Be sure to over-communicate and make sure your team is aware of the changes that will affect them or their area of ministry. Having a clear line of communication is one of the reasons it is essential to have one point person in every area or department.

4. Share the load.

Many leaders feel they have to do it all when it comes to leading change. During a transition, whether big or small, it is key to remember that you will not be able to lead effectively if you do not share the load. Know your strength areas and your growth areas, and seek to surround yourself with other leaders who have the ability to move the organization forward.

I like to use the illustration of a boat captain that has come down from the bridge and is now swabbing the deck. The captain may feel like this is something he needs to do, but let me assure you that this is not where the captain of a boat needs to be. The good captain or leader understands his role and understands that if the boat is going to “stay its course,” then the captain must be at the wheel. I have spoken with so many leaders that have fallen into this tragic misunderstanding.

Know your role in the transition and fulfill it, and also have a capable team of leaders that can share the load with you. Don’t be in the weeds doing someone else’s job when you should be driving the boat. If a captain leaves the bridge, it is almost guaranteed that the boat will begin to stray off course.

5. Point people to God.

I am often surprised how little I hear of corporate prayer during times of major transition. God has such a different perspective on transition, because He sees the past, the present, and the future. Now, I am not talking about a “tack-on” prayer at the beginning or at the end of a team meeting, but big chunks of intentional time seriously seeking God’s plan, His wisdom, and His guidance during times of transition and change. I recently read Mark Batterson’s book The Circle Maker. It reminded me how much prayer is a vital need for any leader at any time, but how extremely important it is that a leader leads his team to the source of all peace during a time of transition and change.

6. Know who is really leading.

During the times I led through a major church transition, I constantly reminded myself that Jesus was the head of the whole thing. It is good to remind ourselves that someone else is in charge, and we must follow His leadership. As a leader during transition, this is really comforting to know. I am not alone, and I have the ultimate source for help, strength, and wisdom if only I acknowledge Him and allow Him His rightful place.

I understand and have been there - leading through transition is not easy, but it can be done successfully. 

What other tips do you have for effective change management and leading through transition?

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Topics: Church Development, Senior Leadership

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