10 Things I’ve Learned About Succession

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 CollinsJohn 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.

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.

The Mission is Bigger Than Me

 

The mission is bigger than me.  That’s the premise behind Level 5 Leadership.  That’s the whole reason for this blog.  The church I started, the business you lead, or the organization you founded has a purpose that is likely much larger than you. That’s a good thing. To lead or start something that shouldn’t end with you is noble, honorable and magnanimous!  That’s how legacies are generated.

Unfortunately, I meet far too many leaders that fail to spend much time thinking beyond their immediate mission and call.  If challenged, they will usually tell you it matters.  They admit they are concerned about what may happen to the organization after they retire or die.  But, life moves at a face pace and there are too many daily operational concerns to slow down long enough to develop a plan—a succession plan.

I made an intentional decision when I was approaching age 50.  What started with me wouldn’t end with me. The mission that God put me on in my early 30’s should not end with me in my 60’s or 70’s. The mission is much bigger than me. That thought was both exhilarating and sobering.  All at the same time.

If you are leading a business, a non-profit, a church, a ministry, are you being intentional? Have you developed a succession plan for your organization?  I recognize that not every organization is set up in a way that the leader can make such a decision.  But are you initiating any conversations? Discussions? Proposals? Plans?  Have you cast a vision for an intentional and wisely planned succession?  All point persons will come to the end of their leadership run at some time or another. All leaders run out of time.

I fully agree with the words of J. Lee Whittington:  “Being a legacy leader is not about me; but, it starts with me.”

 

QUESTION: What one phrase in this short read impacted you the most?  Why?  (We would love to hear your comment below)

Top Level Leadership

 

It didn’t matter who, what, when or where.  A Sunday afternoon Monopoly game with my brother and cousin.  A six-man flag football game at my three-room country school. The 50-yard dash in the state-wide Junior Olympics.  High-school basketball. Hiking to the top of an Oregon butte, a sand dune or a Pacific Ocean overlook. I love to get to the top of the mountain for the first view. I grew up with a love to win.  Continue reading “Top Level Leadership”

Level 5 Leadership

 

Over three decades ago, I heard one of my earliest leadership mentors, Dr. John Maxwell, speak about the five levels of leadership. He described them this way:

1) POSITION (Rights) People follow you because they have to.

2) PERMISSION (Relationships) People follow you because they want to.

3) PRODUCTION (Results) People follow because of what you have done for the organization.

4) PEOPLE DEVELOPMENT (Reproduction) People follow because of what you have done for them.

5) PINNACLE (Respect) People follow because of who you are and what you represent.

As a young 30-something church planter, I set my sights on Level 5. Continue reading “Level 5 Leadership”

I Have a Dream

 

I was almost a 10 year old. We had no television in our home at the time. Growing up in a rural farm community of Oregon, I had no idea that history was being made on August 28, 1963 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. Across the country that day, Martin Luther King, Jr., was leaving a memorable mark on the civil rights timeline of the United Stages. The imagination of civil rights activists and sympathizers, was captured with the leading line of the entire last half of Dr. King’s speech—“I have a dream…” Continue reading “I Have a Dream”