Succession Gone Right!

On a recent episode of the Cause+Effect podcast, Nils Smith sat down with Dunham+Company Founder and Chairman Rick Dunham and President+CEO Trent Dunham for an honest look at the past year since Trent began leading the company. They discussed why every organization must take seriously the work of succession and leadership transitions, and shared practical tips around what has worked well and what has been uniquely hard. We hope this insight encourages and equips you for your next transition.

“You need the judgment and wisdom to know when a season is winding up and when a new one is beginning…”

That’s one of the keys to a healthy, fruitful succession. But it’s not as simple as it sounds.

If you’ve been around ministry or any organization for very long, you’ve probably seen a leadership succession gone wrong. A seasoned leader passes the baton only to hold onto it until it’s ripped away, or a young leader tries to grab it before the time is right.

Releasing leadership is not easy but when both leaders have the company’s best interest at heart, it can be done thoughtfully and intentionally.

Whether you are handing over the reins or taking them, here are three keys to keeping your next leadership transition healthy and productive:

1. Stay humble

Easier said than done, no doubt.

If you’re the leader passing the baton, a healthy level of humility sees when someone else’s vision has become bigger than your own. There’s also an understanding that this transition does not diminish what was previously built, but rather affirms it.

Recognize that it’s no longer your time to lead, but if possible and feasible, maintain your support in some type of guidance role. If you trust the person taking the baton and their judgment, tell them! Voice (publicly and privately) your confidence in them and willingness to support them in whatever they need. Say that even if you don’t agree with every decision, you’re still going to empower him or her to lead.

And as for the new leader, humility is just as vital. In a healthy environment, you should be able to say, “I’m okay with this leader still having a presence and a role in the company, although different.” 

Many leaders, typically out of insecurity, feel as though they need the seasoned leader to disappear in order to have impact. But someone who has led the way for so long can add a significant value to your organization if given the opportunity. Again, specific conditions must be right but this can prove to be a great asset to your organization.

And remember, no leader bats a thousand. So if you’ve recently begun leading your organization, have the humility to admit when you made an incorrect decision or need to change course in order to grow effectively.

2. Be accessible

If a leader who passes the baton can be available and involved at a healthy level, he or she can ask hard questions that may need to be addressed. This should be done in a way that communicates faith and belief in the new leader.

Because taking the baton is not easy. There are new levels of pressure, expectations, and stresses that come along with running a ministry or company. There are time management adjustments that have to be made and a new level of commitment and ownership that can feel heavy at times. So as the one who is stepping away, acknowledge these changes and offer your wisdom and expertise when appropriate.

3. Build trust

The level of genuine trust between both leaders can make or break a transition. Certainly, it takes time to build trust, and it’s often earned little by little. A healthy succession does not take place by handing over all of one’s leadership in one fell swoop. It looks more like empowering the next leader more and more each day before an official transition takes place. Through proven success, integrity, and wisdom, trust can be built and stewarded between each leader.

Lastly, each leader must stay in his or her lane. For the one leaving the lead role, it’s very easy to drift back over into the leadership lane and reach for the reins.

“It’s not my call anymore. It’s your call.” Those are powerful words of humility with incredible ramifications.


For more insight and practical wisdom on establishing and maintaining a healthy leadership transition, listen to the full Cause+Effect podcast episode, Dunham Table: The Benefits of a Healthy Transition.

+ More Insights on Leadership from Dunham+Company

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