Recently I read something that got my attention: “Team leadership requires an understanding that impact is more important than ego. In American Christianity, especially in the megachurch, the ego needs of the senior pastor are off the charts, including me. Pastors have to let God lower their need for attention. The minute that impact becomes more important than ego, amazing things begin to happen” (Ray Johnston of Bayside Church in CA). I had to ask myself, which is more important to me? Impact or ego? What would your answer be for you? Impact or ego? What would others say about me or you? Impact or ego?
I’m hopeful that most would say that my life reflects a higher value on impact than ego. In my mid-60’s, it is easier to measure than when you are in your mid-30’s. For me, there is more of a track record. More to measure. Patterns can be noticed. In other words, I’ve left a trail behind me. What will people see when you have a long history behind you? Impact or ego?
I have lost track of the number of times that leaders in business, church and non-profits have said something like this to me, “What you’ve done with your succession plan is so unusual. I’ve never seen anything like it.” And, I guess it is. I didn’t do it to be unique or different. I didn’t do it because I wanted someone to think I was extraordinary or special. I did it because it just seemed the right thing to do if I wanted to leave the maximum impact through my leadership in the organization that I started.
I remember well the story that John Ortberg tells about playing Monopoly with his grandmother. After working super hard to finally beat her and win the game, she said to young John, “It all goes back in the box. All the cash. All the properties. All the accumulations of success. It all goes back in the box” (here’s a 3 min. video version). That’s the approach of someone who understands impact over ego. It all goes back in the box.
What are you doing in your leadership to maximize your impact? Let me just suggest. The greater you hope your impact to be, the more you will have to fight against your ego. Those two are almost mutually exclusive. You can have great impact and a great ego. But I would contend, your impact will soar upward in almost direct proportion to your ego going downward. Humility is the doorway to maximum impact. Think about. Better yet, work on increasing your impact by decreasing your ego.
It has been 10 year since I made one of my best-ever leadership choices. In 2009, I implemented a succession plan for the organization I founded in 1986. It’s a plan that was 5 years in the making. Very close to committing myself to follow Jesus, marrying my wife and starting Cape Christian, this decision has been in my top 5 all-time best. Earlier this year, I wrote an extended version of these reflections on the last decade (if you remember them, skip to number 6)
1. 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.” Real. Truth
2. Level-Five Leadership is the Pinnacle – Jim Collins, John Maxwell and others speak of 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. Level 5 leadership is worth the climb.
3. Long-Term Success is Superior to Short-Term Wins – 20 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, 10 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 died today, Cape Christian would continue to accelerate in its growth and impact for many more decades to come. My dream is now reality.
4. 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, is incredible. There’s nothing more humbling and fulfilling.
5. 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.
And now, a few more months of reflections have added a second five to those first five:
6. Succession is Rare—I knew it but didn’t know it. I had trouble finding good models before I developed a succession plan. But I thought I just wasn’t discovering them. 10 years later, I’m amazed at how many people have never ever heard of anyone doing what we’ve done, especially in a church setting. When they hear the Cape Christian succession story, they often tell me they have never met anyone who has successfully done what we’ve done.
7.Succession is Misunderstood —The repeated assumption is that I retired early at 55 and turned over the organization to another leader. Peers, friends, acquaintances and even extended family have asked me, “How is retirement going?” So many have difficulty grasping that I stayed on the team, but I no longer lead the team. Or to put it in Jim Collins language, “I stayed on the bus, but I’m no longer in the driver’s seat.” Because it is so rare, I’m guessing people don’t have a slot in their brain to put a strategically developed and implemented leadership succession plan. To me, that needs to change.
8. Succession is Challenging – If it was easy, more people would do it. There’s no comfort in growth and no growth in comfort. There are many challenges: ego, finances, clearly defined roles, comparison, potential conflicts, triangulation and more. I say, “Pull up your big-boy pants and face the challenges.” Every persevering, maturing, and healthy leader should be able to navigate the tests that come.
9. Succession-Planning Takes Time – Many overwhelmed leaders think they can’t add one more thing to their schedule. It does take time. It took me five years to put a plan in place. Lots of reading, conversations, prayer, intensive internal reflection, and consultation with others was important. Many leaders I know just won’t make it a priority of time and energy. But as always, the best things in life take intentionality and effort. You can’t coast and climb to the top of the mountain.
10.Succession Takes the Wisdom of Others – Our succession plan at Cape Christian wouldn’t be the success story that it is without a lot of help from a lot of people. Lloyd Reeb of Half-time coached, encouraged and inspired me. My friend, Greg Kappas, listened to me and my successee as we processed the possibilities. His feedback and connection to one leader in California who had done it was helpful. My “Monday Morning” local pastor’s group that I’ve done life with for over 23 years gave invaluable wisdom. Our church board engaged in the process with their counsel, adjusting our bylaws and risked the future of the church by moving into uncharted territory. I learned from the leaders and books mentioned earlier in this blog. My wife, Linda, gave incredible support during the planning and over the years since. Don’t try it alone. Outside perspectives are priceless.
I believe this. Forward-thinking leaders plan for both their future and for the future of the business, non-profit or church they lead.
NOTE: If you need any assistance in planning, let me know and I’ll do my best to point you in the right direction! My email address is Dennis@SuccessfulSuccessions.comif you want to reach out.