5 Things I’ve Learned Through Implementing a Succession Plan


15 years ago, I made a decision to develop a leadership succession plan for the organization I founded. Very close to committing myself to follow Jesus, marrying my wife and starting Cape Christian, this decision to is one of my very best!  This month, it has been 10 years since I implemented that succession plan.  Here are some reflections on the last decade.

  • Intentional Legacy-Leaving is Rewarding– Tom Mullins, author of Passing the Leadership Baton wrote, “A transition will be one of the greatest tests of your leadership, but it will also serve as one of the greatest rewards and testimonies of your legacy.” That is truth.  Real. Truth.  There have been a few tests along the path.  But so many more rewards than tests.
  • Level-Five Leadership is the PinnacleJim Collins, John Maxwell and others speak and write about the pyramid of leadership that peaks at level 5 where you serve others, empower those under you, give away leadership, hand credit to the team, take responsibility for failures and demonstrate deep humility. I’ve diligently pursued the quest to climb to the top.  Planning and executing a succession plan has been so fulfilling and fruitful because the organization I founded has excelled in ways I had only dreamed of.  Level 5 leadership is worth chasing.
  • Long-Term Success is Superior to Short-Term Wins – Twenty years into starting and leading a church, I dreamed of building an organization that would outlive me.  I dreamed of a church that would go faster and farther after I was out of the driver’s seat than when I was in it. Now, ten years and three successors beyond the plan implementation, I can actually attest to the fact that those first two decades of many small wins have been far surpassed by the long-term success of an organization that is now ready for the long-haul.  I am absolutely sure, if I got hit by a truck tonight, Cape Christian would continue to accelerate in its growth and impact for many more decades to come.  My dream is now reality.
  • The Mission is Bigger Than Me– I could have said and meant it early in my leadership journey.  But it’s different to finally and completely grasp it.  To start something and lead something that is much bigger than me and won’t end with me brings such a sense of contentment and significance to me. There’s nothing more humbling and fulfilling.
  • My Fruit Tastes Better on the Trees of Others– I have always loved Bob Buford’s desire to have his “fruit to grow on other people’s trees.”  Seeing the results of leadership development and the establishment of a culture of an intentional mission and purpose doesn’t just look nice on the trees of others, it even tastes better.  I especially love the fruit of what I’ve planted when I see it coming off the trees of my successors and bringing nourishment and joy to thousands.  That is even more satisfying than when they used to feast on what I produced.   

Forward-thinking leaders plan for both their future and for the future of the business, non-profit or church they lead.  If you need any assistance in planning, let me know and I’ll try to help!

Fruit On Other People’s Trees

One of my mentors-from-afar changed his address last year.  Bob Buford moved from his earthly home near Dallas, TX to his heavenly home at age 78 on April 18, 2018.  I always admired Bob.  A successful business leader, Bob leveraged his visionary wisdom, leadership skills and generosity to significantly contribute to three major landscape shifts in American Christianity.  He was a founder of Leadership Network—helping larger growing churches and their leaders ramp up their ability to be more innovative and entrepreneurial so they could multiple their Kingdom impact (our church was one of those).  Bob also wrote the best-selling book “Half-time” (which greatly influenced my life) and started the Halftime Institute to help business leaders make second-career shifts from success to significance.  And a third contribution, was the launch of the Drucker Institute, to help non-profit organizations learn top-level management skills.  Buford’s later life mission was to “transform the latent energy of American Christianity into active energy.”   

Bob Buford

Bob Buford had a saying about wanting his “fruit to grow on other people’s trees.”  Bob constantly invested in the lives of leaders.  He had a unique way of influencing high-potential leaders to expand their capacity and then empower them to flourish in their unique calling and gifting.  He loved to see the success of others. Bob always avoided taking credit for the success of something he initiated and when someone would try to hand it to him, he would quietly point upwards and whisper “Yay God.”

I’ve never personally met Bob.  I’ve read his books.  I’ve been personally mentored by one of his mentorees, Lloyd Reeb. I’ve been personally inspired, challenged and encouraged by Leadership Network staff: Linda Stanley, Dave Travis, Warren Bird and more.  And I’m grateful that his fruit has grown on my tree.  And actually, Bob Buford’s writings and influential organizations are my primary inspiration for loving to see my fruit growing on other people’s trees. Developing and implementing a succession plan in the church I started, can be traced back both directly and indirectly to Bob Buford. Now, my fruit is growing on the trees of my successors. 

Philippians 2:3-5 contains Bob Buford’s core values:  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.  Not always easy, but absolutely necessary—if you plan to see your fruit growing on other people’s trees.