There is lots of talk right now about succession planning. William Vanderbloemen and Warren Bird’s book Next: Pastor Succession That Works has contributed much to the conversation. I have heard several podcasts on the issues and read a number of blog post as well. People are thinking about succession and rightfully so. It is an important leadership issue.
One of the things I think that gets missed is how important succession planning is to contributing to a culture of leadership development.
The other day I had a hour-long conversation with my Twitter buddy Todd Adkins who is the Director of Leadership at Lifeway and developer of Ministry Grid. I mentioned to Todd that I thought the biggest mistake most leaders and churches make when it comes to thinking about succession planning is the belief that it only applies to the top level.
Church leaders need to be thinking about who will replace them. This thinking must be applied to every level or leadership, not just the senior pastor.
The point I was making with Todd was that succession planning is a way to build a leadership pipeline, and we both agree that developing a leadership pipeline is essential.
The hidden benefit to succession planning is that it forces churches to think about the leadership potential of their leaders at every level. Thinking through leadership at every level is essential for any church that plans to grow.
Scale Requires Leadership Capacity
Scale requires greater leadership capacity which means greater leadership potential must be developed at every level.
At every level of leadership, there is a different set of requirements regarding leadership skills, use of time, mindsets, and values that must inform their leadership. At each level of leadership, a leader needs to be able to adjust to the new demands that each level requires. Often this means moving from operational and functional leadership to multiple functional or operational areas and the ability to consider a broader set of organizational aspects.
Leaders must move from doing work, to leading a team, to leading large parts of the organization or ministry. Leaders must be able to transition from leading themselves, having a ground floor view and short-term goals of the work to leading across multiple functions, possessing a larger understanding of organizational goals, long-term strategic direction, finances, and leadership of large groups of people.
Current Success Does Not Guarantee Future Success
What makes a leader successful at one level does not ensure success at the next level because the demands change.
Being able to make these changes in skills, use of time, focus, mindset, values, etc., is the difference between a successful transition up in leadership or a failed one.
A Leadership Pipeline
Senior leaders should be able to identify leaders at the level below them who have the potential to make the transition. And these mid-level leaders should be identifying junior leaders below them, in the same way, all the way down. Identifying potential leaders all through the church organization is part of creating a leadership pipeline.
Identifying leadership potential applies not just to church staff, but can equally apply to volunteer ministry leaders as well. Every ministry leader should be thinking about developing co-leaders, and assistant leaders, etc., so that a pipeline of potential leaders is ready as the ministry scales up.
If we are to scale our churches or ministries, a crucial element that must scale is our leadership capacity and potential.
A leadership pipeline creates a way to match the growth of the church to keep pace with the leadership needs as the church scales up. But further, this approach ensures that leaders will grow because they understand what it will take to be successful at the next level of leadership and also, fewer misplacements will occur.
The Hidden Value of Succession Planning
The hidden value of succession planning is the ability to create a scalable, repeatable, reproducible, and explicit pathway to developing more leadership capacity and potential.
A church can’t scale without the leaders to led it. Succession planning should not be limited to the top but should scale up and down the church structure.
Succession planning is just as valuable for the bottom as well as the top.
If thought about more expansively the hidden value of succession planning is a leadership pipeline.