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Archive for the ‘Transitions’ Category

Relay-race_02In the last post, I began to tell you about how the LST Board initially organized itself for transitioning from the Founding Executive Directors (Sherrylee and me) to a new Executive Director. You will remember that the board organized itself into two work groups: a Search Group to identify the new Director and a Transition Group to negotiate the Woodwards continued relationship to the ministry after our transition. (We avoided the word retirement from the beginning because we knew we did not want to walk away completely from LST, nor could we really afford to.)

The Search Committee began almost immediately to work through a list of potential candidates, contacting them, asking them if they would consider the position.  Most of the candidates were happy where they were or the timing was not right. They were honored to be considered, but practically, could not pursue the position any further. About six months into the search process, the committee was very close to making a final recommendation to the board with a potential transition as close as 6-8 weeks later.

The Transition Committee, on the other hand, for a variety of good reasons had not yet met!  Nor did they have yet all the information they needed from Sherrylee and me in order to fulfill their mandate.  One thing had become clear to the Transition committee, however, and that was that the Woodwards needed to continue drawing their salary for at least another year and maybe longer in order to make their long-term financial planning work.

When the Transition committee and the Search committee talked to each other, they discovered that their timetables did not come close to matching up.  The Search committee was ready to move to transition, but that was impossible with the needs that the Transition committee was presenting.  Some members of the Search committee felt like their work was at risk of being voided and discarded; some members of the Transition committee felt unfairly judged for doing what they were supposed to do.

For the first time in the long history of LST, there was potential tension between board members. To make matters worse, one of the four “objective” board members resigned at this critical moment for non-related issues.

In an attempt to clear the air, the whole board convened a special session. With prayer, great transparency, and a generous spirit of cooperation, all the issues were laid out. Ultimately the board decided at this meeting to make all the necessary decisions involving dates and compensation that affected the Woodwards, feeling like with those set in concrete, the search for their replacement could continue on firmer footing.  One board member strongly opposed this solution, abstaining from the final vote, which was otherwise unanimous.  Predictably, this board member resigned immediately following this meeting, feeling out of step with the other board members.

Now the LST Board consisted of five members, only two of which were not directly involved in the transition process—clearly an untenable situation for the Board.  In our next regular meeting—approximately one month after the special meeting—the Board decided to call a “time-out” and to search for new board members.  Six very strong candidates were identified, all people who had been involved with LST and loved the ministry.

Surprisingly, all six of these candidates accepted nomination to the Board of Directors and were installed at the next meeting.  Now we were eleven—with lots of fresh eyes to look at the transition process that one could describe best as frustratingly stalled.

Bringing in great new board members may be the best decision the LST board has ever made!  One item dominated the agenda at their first meeting and that was the transition.  The history of the current stalemate was rolled out, their questions answered, and nothing held back.

At the end of the day, the new board decided to stop the process—completely—so that the old board members could take a breather from the load they had been carrying, but also allowing the new board time to initiate a newer and better process.  Six months later, the search began again–new committees, new eyes, new timetable–and here we are, less than a year later, with an Executive Director-elect, stepping into his new role as the unanimous choice of the board of directors, on July 1.

Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.  Ecclesiastes 4:9 (NLT)

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Relay-race_02If you had asked me five years ago, who I thought would succeed us as the LST Executive Director, I would have had a name and all the reasons why my choice was the only choice!  Privately, I would tell board members, lobbying in a preemptive way to ensure that my choice was their choice.

But I had made a big mistake.  My big mistake was that my One-and-Only-Possible-Choice absolutely did not want to do the job!

I’ve thought a lot about my flawed choice and have decided that asking the current Executive Director to find his/her own successor is not a very good idea. If the ED is a founding director, it may be even worse, and certainly more problematic.

First, why should not the Founding director name his/her own successor?  After all, who would know better about what skill sets or gifts are needed than the Founder?  Allow me to answer this rhetorical question with several more:

  • Can Founders choose someone different in skill sets from themselves?
  • Can they be objective enough to bring in someone who has the gifts that they themselves did not have?
  • Can they see beyond their own circle of relatives/acquaintances/associates to evaluate fairly someone who has not been intimately associated with the organization?
  • And what does it do to their legacy, if their chosen successor does not prove to be a good choice—so does that risk push Founders to safe choices rather than best choices?
  • What if the Founder consciously or unconsciously still wants to control the organization?  Isn’t this almost a predictable tension at a time of transition?  Would that tend to lead toward a choice of someone who can be controlled or overly influenced by the Founder?

These questions are hard for Founders to answer—which is why I would encourage you to opt for strong board involvement in choosing a successor!

What if the board does not want to be involved, but prefers that the Founder/Executive Director do the selection?   Then you have the wrong board!  Regardless of who started has led it for years, the board of directors has the responsibility for the sustainability of the organization.

Your board should lead in choosing the successor for a Founder/Executive Director for the following reasons:

  • The members of the board are legally responsible for the actions of Executive Director.
  • A multi-member board has the advantage of diverse input, out-of-the-box thinking, regional perspectives, and often even generational insights, all of which should engender better candidates.
  • Board members, by the fact of sheer number, have wider circles than a single Founder. If the board searches among their acquaintances, a larger number of good prospects is more likely.
  • A public announcement of an open position by the Board of Directors gives the organization more legitimacy than an appeal by a Founder/Executive Director.  It also makes the process seem more objective.
  • The Board of Directors is almost always the employer of the Executive Director, so giving the Board the responsibility for selection of the new ED builds an appropriate relationship between the employer and employee from the very beginning.  This is much different than if the new ED has been selected and “hired” by the outgoing Executive/Founder.

The LST board went through a bit of transition turmoil after Sherrylee and I gave notice of our retirement.  Let me start by saying that the main problem was not the board members themselves, but probably the constitution of the board at the time.  We were seven members; Sherrylee and I were two of those seven.  That left only five to work through the transition.  As it turned out, one of the board members was to becoming one of the declared candidates interested in the Executive Director’s position.  What we were left with after Sherrylee and I and this other board member recused ourselves was only four “objective” members.

We made the decision to divide into two working groups and to invite some of our non-board member supporters to join us in these work groups in order to expand the number of people in the process as well as to provide a wider perspective.  One work group was to search for the successor; the other work group was to manage the transition of the Founders (Sherrylee and me).  That seemed like a very productive arrangement, but actually things got off track pretty quickly.

I’ll explain what happened in the next post.

 

 

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Relay-race_02Almost three years ago, Sherrylee and I gave the LST board of directors our two-year notice as we had agreed to do many years ago.  The LST Board of Directors wisely had been discussing the eventual transition from the Founders (Sherrylee and me) to a Successor probably for at least five years before we gave notice. In fact, the “Succession Plan” as it was always called in those earlier board meetings is what eventually drove us to the first Strategic Plan in 2013.  Afterwards, Sherrylee and I knew what we were supposed to do to start the transition process.

Just a few months ago, I was sitting with two wonderful kingdom workers who were both in their late 70s, living in a difficult, foreign country, directors of a local non-profit organization—and after eight years there, just exhausted from the physical and spiritual demands of their mission!  As they told me over dinner one night, they had repeatedly told their American Board of Directors and their supporters that one of their top priorities was to find their replacements, and while everyone acknowledged the need, not much was really done to move the process forward.  A few comments in newsletters and a little correspondence with casual inquiries were all that the older couple themselves could do while keeping up with the strenuous daily demands of their foreign ministry.

I told them that they needed to give notice!  Not that they should create a hardship for their Board of Directors, but they needed to do what was right both for the mission and for themselves.  And by giving notice—in this case they decided (quite generously, I believe, for their age) to give their board two years notice—they were also placing the responsibility for the continuation of the mission squarely on the shoulders both of those who truly carry the responsibility as well as those in the best position to successfully find their successors.

If you have been reading carefully, you will have picked up on the fact that we gave our two-year notice almost three years ago!  Perhaps where there is tension between a board of directors and their executive, the official notice might be an irreversible legal step, for most of us in non-profits it is probably more a statement of intent.  In our case, the process of finding a successor took longer than anticipated. For others there could be financial considerations, a health issue, or even questions of momentum that might make the official hand-off date other than what was anticipated. In some cases, the succession might even need to occur earlier for the good of both the executive and/or the organization.

Here are my conclusions about giving notice as a step in the transition process:

  • The Board of Directors should create a Succession Plan long before it is needed, and this plan should include an appropriate and agreed upon timeframe for their executive to give notice.
  • If the Board does not have a succession plan or one that includes giving notice, then the executive should initiate the conversation with them and encourage them to develop one.
  • If the Board does not grasp their responsibilities for succession, the Executive may need to simply give notice on his/her own initiative, in order to raise the urgency level—for the sake of the organization or for him/herself.
  • Only in rare cases, does either the Board or the Executive need to feel that the Notice must be strictly enforced. Neither the organization nor the executive should view it as a bludgeon, rather as a green light signaling the start of a slightly unpredictable journey into a new future for both.

 

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Relay-race_02Many Founders can be found in the Bible. Maybe not the 501(c)(3) variety, but Founders they were, so there must be something to learn from them about Founders.

Adam founded the human race—but he couldn’t admit his mistakes, blaming others instead of admitting his own error. In addition, he failed to some degree to raise successors who were in a position to lead this newly founded group of people into a positive future.  Adam is not the one we want to imitate.

Noah re-founded the original human organization that Adam’s progeny had driven into total collapse. It took a massive shakeup, where everyone was washed out of the human organization except Noah and his family. Unfortunately, in forcing through this necessary but painful shutdown and restart, Noah suffered from PTSD and turned to alcohol.  No doubt Noah was a righteous man who courageously did very hard things, but he did not finish strong.  Let’s keep looking!

Abraham founded the nation of Israel. Interestingly enough, although he had the amazing promise and assurance of all the help he needed to launch this nation, he actually had two failed start-ups, one with his servant Eliezer, whom he thought might grow into his successor, but the Chairman of his board had chosen someone else and thought Abraham showed a lack of trust by inserting this personal choice into board-approved plan.

Then a second time, Abraham, listening to his wife, got impatient and decided to create his own succession plan using foreign resources.  He managed to generate his own nation that lasted a few years, but then fell apart. Again, he had acted on his own initiative, thinking he could change the agreed upon plan.  He was showing no confidence that his Biggest Supporter would really fulfill his pledge.  The result of taking things into his own hands has led to almost 4000 years of terror from which we still suffer.

We will continue this business metaphor, talking about David as the Founder of a royal dynasty, but while David himself was a person of great faith and courage, he was also carried away by his passions, which led to hideous crimes for which he paid with his horribly troubled family. His love child dies, his daughter is raped by her brother, another son murders his incestuous brother, and his most beloved son attempts to steal his throne. Because of David’s goodness, his Backer honored his promise to do whatever it took to continue the dynasty, but because of David’s flaws, He had to intervene over and over again. David’s dynasty lost 83% of the original holdings (10 of 12 tribes) and ultimately was left with just a remnant of the original company!

Finally we get to the Son of David, the Founder of Founders, who established his Church.  Here is a Founder to follow and emulate—finally.

Jesus spent thirty years getting ready to launch His church.  When the time came, He opened with an act of personal humility (his baptism), not starting with great fanfare or extravagance.  He had one clear message that he delivered to his audience: the Kingdom of God is at hand. He pursued his single goal relentlessly, not only in the face of blatant opposition, but also when his own followers totally misconstrued the mission statement He had delivered to them.  With patient compassion, He continued to lead and coach them even when they started in-fighting, looking for the seats of power in this new organization.

For three years, He led them by example, He mentored them, He planted visionary seeds of what would be after He was gone. Before the end of His tenure with them on earth, he started preparing them for His departure. He gave them assignments, He sent a Consultant to continue working with them. One of the most important things He did was prioritize for them their prime directives as representatives of this new organization; He taught them that relationships—especially how they worked together—would be how their potential customers would evaluate the organization.  He promised to leave everything they needed in order to continue the mission, and that even though He was leaving them physically, that He would always be with them.

As a Founder whose time it is to leave, I have searched and searched Scripture for a model for the transition we are experiencing. I have thought about Elijah passing his mantel to Elisha. Or Moses handing off the wandering Israelites to Joshua. Or Samuel guiding the transition from judges to a king over Israel.  But while these metaphors may be a little artificial, I find no better model of transition than Jesus, one who gave his whole life, laying it down for His friends. He prepared those who worked for him, he taught them all He could—even more than they could understand. He arranged extended help for them after He was gone. He weeded out those who had another mission; He mended relationships among his staff, not focusing on the weaknesses even the strongest of his people had shown. Instead He lifted them up and gave them hope.

He did not tell them the future, but inspired them to believe that they would accomplish the great mission they had begun together. He prayed for them, he addressed their doubts, and finally, he gave them specific instructions for what to do immediately after He left. And so they went out, and here we are two thousand years later—not without problems, but still following His vision, still members of His Church.

I have not been such a Founder—far, far from it. But if all of us Founders will do our best to transition as He did, our ministries, our charities, our missions will be better blessed. Of that I am sure.

 

 

 

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Relay-race_02Just to show how difficult it is to transition from Founders to Successors, let’s be very honest and answer the questions that I said every Founder was thinking when the question of succession is raised:

  • Who knows more about this ministry than I do?
  • Who is willing to do what I am willing to do?
  • Who will cast a vision that others will follow like they follow our vision?
  • Who is willing to risk what I have been willing to risk?
  • What kind of outcome could be expected without the great risk?
  • Who can lead this ministry better than I can in spite of my age, my health, my family, my . . . ?

The truth of the matter is that unless your Founder has serious mental or health issues or has done something that morally/ethically disqualifies him/her, then the obvious answer is nobody knows more, no one will do more or risk more personally, and no one has more followers already in step with their vision than Founders. 

And the longer they have led, and the more successful they have been, the harder it is to move them out!

So what reason are you going to give to convince this Leader that he/she needs to step down? 

First, you need to consider that you may not convince them to step down.  Your board may be able to force them out—but unless they are totally out of favor with staff, volunteers, and donors, you will suffer great damage by doing so. The whole ministry/organization may be threatened, and by forcing them out, you may find yourself in competition with their new, parallel organization!  Not good.  Allowing them to continue to lead until such time that they are persuaded by some of the observations listed below may be the only viable strategy.  Sorry, if you were looking for a miracle way out!

Two approaches that I don’t think will work, but that are often attempted anyway are

  • You may be able to appeal to them on the basis of age, health, or family situation. Aren’t you ready to spend more time with your family, with your grandchildren?  Aren’t you going to be spending a great deal of time caring for your spouse now?  You need to focus your energy now on recovering your health/taking care of yourself. It may take family members to convince them, close friends, even their respected church leaders.  And while their own health or age might seem like strong appeals to you, don’t forget that the Founder is used to being sacrificial and may have a “leave it all on the field” attitude about the ministry/organization that keeps them from being moved by what they see as self-serving rationalizations.
  • You may appeal to them on the basis of popular opinion. The staff thinks it’s time . . . . The board thinks you should step down, or Everyone sees it, but you . . . . Don’t forget though that Founders have always had the courage to go against the mainstream or they probably wouldn’t have done what they did.  They probably did not lead by taking polls, so I don’t think this is going to achieve a congenial, voluntary resignation.

My only good suggestion to you is to appeal to their desire for the success of the ministry/organization! More than their own personal welfare, they have given everything so that the ministry/organization can accomplish the greater good which they desired. If you can help them understand that this greater good—the advance of the Kingdom of God, the health of children, the care of the aged, any benevolent cause that was worth someone giving years and years plus all the tangible and intangible sacrifices that Founders make—that their cause will be advanced by their stepping down, then you will have pricked their soul.

As Sherrylee and I looked at our own ministry and what was best for it, several very specific situations propelled us toward our decision to step down voluntarily after thirty-six years. I’ll share these with you with the hope that it will help you with your Founder:

  • As I mentioned in the first of this series, our experiences in our youth watching Founders being locked out of their organizations was so painful that we determined to stop before someone wanted our keys.
  • Although reasonably healthy, our age has made extensive international travel much harder on us physically.
  • The financial responsibility for the ministry had always been heavy, but it began to feel like a burden. We thought that was our problem, not the ministry’s.
  • We have found ourselves getting further and further away from those who volunteer to go, not even recognizing the names of some who have done LST for several years.
  • Sherrylee and I are boomers. When we began working with students, we were dealing with Gen Xers. We’ve now gone through Y’s and are well into millennials.   We have also gone from moderns to post-moderns, and some even say post postmoderns.  We are less sure that we are in touch with the way students today are thinking.

We still believe in the mission; we still see the vision in front of us, and we are still sold out to the goal of sharing Jesus and sharing ourselves—and we will be until the day we die! But, honestly, we believed in that mission before LST began.

I’m very grateful to our board of directors, all of whom are dear friends and people who have been a part of the Let’s Start Talking Ministry, who have understood and walked with us through our own transition.  My prayer is that you will be as wise and gentle with those Founders who need your help with a pretty difficult moment in their lives.

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Relay-race_02Founders, charter members, church planters, entrepreneurs—all of these terms probably describe the same kinds of people—and all of them create unique and real challenges when it comes time for the BIG TRANSITION.

For entrepreneurs, the start-up phase is over and it is time to build the business; for church planters the new church is stable and now needs to appoint its own leaders from within; for charter members who stepped out in faith to establish something new, they are now outnumbered and out-voted by those who joined after the struggle and sacrifice were just the story rolled out for special occasions.

Founders may be the biggest challenge of all. Entrepreneurs move on because they have to in order to scratch their itch; church planters begin with the expectation of growing new leadership; charter members never had that much control to start with, but FOUNDERS are all of the above—and they see that organization/ministry/business they have begun as their life’s work!  They expect to lead until they die!

Sherrylee and I have been all of the above!  We have been instrumental in planting one church, were charter members of another, started a for-profit business in the mid-80s that was a disaster, and, much to our surprise, founded Let’s Start Talking—a mission and ministry that God has blessed and grown far beyond our imagination.  For over 35 years, we have walked in front of hundreds of volunteers and dozens of extraordinary staff members.  We have always worked under the oversight of elders of our sponsoring churches, with advisory boards, and, for the last sixteen years, within a passionately committed board of directors.

So what’s the problem with Founders, especially at the time of the BIG TRANSITION?

Let’s list some characteristics of Founders, just to get some insight into what might make it difficult for them to transition:

  • Founders often launch their boat when and/or where no one else is really going!
  • Founders often launch without the means to achieve the goal, just with an idea or a dream.
  • Founders often launch in the face of opposition, either political, financial, or personal.
  • Founders have often failed at previous launches, so they don’t necessarily inspire overwhelming initial confidence from others.
  • Founders may be “lone rangers”. They don’t need lots of other people to follow them in order to proceed.
  • Founders believe they are prepared for the task. They can do it!
  • Founders, when their project is successful, generate great followings and loyalty.  The longer their organization survives and the more successful it is, the greater the following and loyalty of those who have not only joined them, but who also have committed to their vision.
  • Founders are often willing to sacrifice more for the sake of the mission than most people would be willing or would think reasonable.
  • Founders may “own” their life’s work—sometimes literally, but almost always emotionally.

What makes it hard for Founders to step down or to transition to a supportive role?  In light of the above characteristics, just listen to their questions—their feelings:

  • Who knows more about this ministry than I do?
  • Who is willing to do what I am willing to do?
  • Who will cast a vision that others will follow like they follow our vision?
  • Who is willing to risk what I have been willing to risk?
  • What kind of outcome could be expected without the great risk?
  • Who can lead this ministry better than I can in spite of my age, my health, my family, my . . . ?
  • This is mine.

Please don’t hear me being critical of Founders.  Don’t forget, I am one!  I am trying to describe a category of persons broader than myself, but I will certainly confess to entertaining all of the above questions as we personally go through this transition.

We Founders know what the problem is with Founders.  Next time, we’ll talk about successful ways to deal with Founders when it’s time for them to give up control.

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Hello, again. After a lengthy hiatus, I plan to start writing again. We’ll talk about the hiatus later, but today, let’s just jump into the deep water!

 Relay-race_02It’s Friday—the day before the Saturday board meeting—the BIG Saturday board meeting!  Ten board members will begin arriving tonight, though most will just drive to the meeting in the morning. Even though it is not yet noon on the day before, I’m confident that all of these men and women have already been thinking—and, I suspect, praying—about this Saturday’s board meeting.

Tomorrow, the Let’s Start Talking Board of Directors is interviewing the two finalist candidates to take Sherrylee’s and my places as the new Executive Director.  We—Mark and Sherrylee—began this ministry in our home 36 years ago—a lifetime ago. Sherrylee was the first paid staff member. Our three kids were born into it and raised in the backseat of our many rental cars that we drove around Europe each summer of their lives, organizing and supervising those early LST teams.

This short-term missions ministry which we started with a very small, limited vision for working in Germany (actually, still West Germany in 1980) has now sent Christian volunteers into over 60 countries—including some countries that were not even countries in 1980. Literally thousands of Christians have shared their faith with more thousands of people who asked those Christians to tell them why they were so happy and what made them believe the Story of Jesus.  God has truly done greater things than we could have ever imagined.

Three years ago, Sherrylee and I told our board that it was time for us to give the leadership of the ministry to the next generation.  We were not pressured to give notice, not by board politics, not by financial crisis, not by scandal, nor for health reasons.  No, many years ago, when we were young missionaries in Germany, we watched the painful struggles between older missionaries who had planted churches in Europe after WWII and those same churches who needed to break away from their “parent” in order to mature.  My memory is that at least one church changed the locks on their building because their founding father refused to give up his key, aka “control”, of his church.

His church? Really?  Watching those missionary giants rejected by their spiritual children is how we learned not to believe that we possessed, that we owned a ministry just because God used us to start something that He wanted done.  Not owning LST made it easier to start the process three years ago of giving up the keys to the building!  It isn’t our building; they aren’t our keys! They never were!

Tomorrow, we believe we will begin the final step of stepping down. And that’s just the beginning!

What has brought me back to writing again is the opportunity to share with you this transition. I want to share with you what happened when we gave notice three years, what didn’t happen, and what probably should have happened! I’d like to talk about processes, choices, and feelings. And I wish to share this information, not as a history, but perhaps as a case study for those of you who are in non-profits, ministries, or small organizations that will face this same kind of transition sooner or later.

 

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