People have strong feelings about anything that threatens their survival or capacity to thrive. Even if denied, those feelings exist…and emerge later in some behavioral fashion. Leadership transitions affect several factors related to survival and thrival. (Okay, thrival is not a word but it helps make the point.) Let’s take a brief look at some of the emotional and relational aspects of succession planning.
The Outgoing Leader
The Outgoing Leader is a person; perhaps with a family. Whether that leader was highly effective, loved, and will be missed or s/he was merely tolerated, made a mess, and their departure is a cause for celebration, there are emotional and relational aspects to consider.
- Practical ways of communicating expectations and boundaries when it comes to timeframes, roles and responsibilities, power and authority, and the processing of changes in those areas.
- The ending or significant shifting of important relationships. If the organization is small or intimate enough for the leader’s family to have been involved, they may have emotional attachments as well.
The Immediate Circle
Those who worked most closely with the outgoing leader may need or desire some means of providing input or processing of their own feelings about the transition and their experiences with the leader prior to the transition. The latter is especially important if the leader in any way created a toxic or dysfunctional work environment. The effects of such behaviors and environments may seem to evaporate, but still linger.
If the outgoing leader provided a healthy environment in which people thrived, it is important to acknowledge and celebrate in a way that reinforces that what they built together will continue. Leaders, and their inner circles, either create culture or allow it. It is important to equip the inner circle to continue shaping the culture they’ve built, even after their leader moves on.
The Broader Circle of Stakeholders
There are concentric circles of stakeholders, each with their own degree of emotional connection to the outgoing leader and/or what they stood for and provided. Many people experience a sense of loss or anxiety about the future during a leadership transition. Communicate with purposeful intentionality on topics such as transitional logistics, how areas of stakeholder-concern will be addressed during the transition, and how missional-momentum is going and being supported.
The Incoming Leader
The incoming leader is a person, perhaps with a family. There may be a geographical move involved. There is certainly a shift in roles and responsibilities. Each of those brings degrees of emotional and relational ambiguity and adjustment. Acknowledge those realities along with logistical and operational aspects. Your new leader will be at their best when their whole person can show up.
Integrity has to do with wholeness. When there are a lot of parts involved, it takes intentionality to keep the people and the processes integrated. A well-conceived plan helps.
TurningWest’s Culture & Leadership Transition Planning service will help you with yours.