About a month ago I wrote a post about leading in transition. I want to pick up that conversation today with some theological reflection, but because of the nature of this blog there will be plenty of leadership perspective in this as well.
These are reflections about being a leader in the midst of personal transition. These are personal reflections, and not academic ones. I may cite some academic or thought leader here and there, but these observations are generally my own. To be perfectly honest, many of these are the feelings I have been wrestling with (and continue to wrestle with).
1) It’s not easy.
Change is not easy. This is something any change expert will rightfully say. Thus, transition whether individually (as in my case) or in the case of a larger organization is not always easy. Emotions are involved. Legacies are involved. Questions and uncertainty are involved. Discernment is involved. In some ways, I think my last post dealt most clearly with this point. What I have found to be most important in being able to get through the tough moments, doubts, and questions is to admit how I am feeling in the moment, and then remember why I am doing what I am doing. Beyond that, I trust that one of the reasons I am doing what I am doing is that its part of something bigger than myself. From a faith aspect I trust in the promises of God- that God is with us, and God is at work here and everywhere and we are a part of that.
In my case, at the end of this month I will no longer be on staff in the congregation that I have served for just over the past three years now. This means that at least for the immediate mean time, there will be no more worship service drafting, choir directing, occasional preaching, hymn and song picking, and worship and music team facilitation and coordination. That’s pretty bitter-sweet. It’s the right time for this transition I believe for where I am at personally, and for my sense of calls, but its still not easy to be leaving a community which has embraced me, allowed me room to grow, and allowed me to work alongside them in their congregation. I have learned tons, and probably will continue to out of this experience. I only hope that just as it has been a great time and opportunity for me, it has been for them as well.
2) There is a need for affirmation
This needs a little unpacking. I am not talking about a seemingly vain need to be told that I am good. I am talking about an importance that the individual can trust that what they have done has not been in vain, but rather has laid some seeds or good fruit for the future. This affirmation does not necessarily need to come through words of another, but can be gained simply by taking the balcony view (like Hefitiz and Linsky talk about) and comparing the view from the balcony in the present to the view you saw closer to when you started. If you notice a change, a new energy, or at least a new way of doing things and of people being able to be better in community with one another, that’s affirmation enough I believe.
In my case, I can do this somewhat symbolically. But there is also another need for me to allow myself to believe that I have done some good. In a lot of ways I am my own worst critic and can be pretty hard on myself. At the end of the day, the greatest affirmation that I can receive is to know the peace that surpasses all understanding and to trust that what I have done and what I am doing is part of something bigger- God’s callings and work in the world. If I can hand it over to God, and to trust that God has used, continues to use, and will use what I have done, what I have helped others to learn and grow in themselves, and what I will do, that’s the greatest affirmation.
3) Don’t feel the need to preserve some legacy, rather be authentic and transparent.
At first blush this may seem contradictory to my above point. But, its not, at least when allowed to be nuanced. Leaders who are more inward turned, seek to have their reputations upheld even in the midst of transition. In reality, one’s legacy has been forming much longer than the transition. If done right, a transition is part of a legacy but it will not preserve or denigrate it. What does within the transition is one’s openness, honesty, authenticity, and transparency. I have seen a great deal written lately about how millennials value authenticity and transparency. This might be true, but I would hope that all generations value such things. Without authenticity and transparency, it doesn’t seem to me one can have a genuine and deep relationship with another person. Leadership depends greatly on relationships and to think otherwise I believe puts leadership within a vacuum which is not all that realistic for the contextual and leadership needs of organizations and groups.
In my case, one of the things that I am doing as part of the final pieces of the transition process from my congregational role is I am hosting a “Tell it to Timothy” experience. This will be held on a Sunday morning between worship services. I want to give people the space to ask questions, to articulate their feelings and perspectives (good, bad, and ugly) which may or may not involve me. I think its important for the transition to involve space for feelings, but also opportunities to discuss, converse, and grow together. I could have easily not been open to this, but such a move would not have been authentic or transparent. If a leader values the organization and people they have been serving with, I believe they greatly value feedback but also the opportunity to be open and honest with one another so unproven assumptions cannot take hold, and fears can be relieved.
4) Leave it better than you found it.
Deep down, this should be the goal of leadership in general. But it also should be the goal of transition. For as much as you can enable, leave the organization or group you are transitioning out of, better than you found it. It’s like the same adage your mom probably taught you about cleaning up after being some place. It’s a basic stewardship hope too, leaving something at least as well, if not better than how it was entrusted to you in the first place. Obviously, you cannot control or dictate how others act, but at least for what you can be responsible for, make sure its better than you found it.
In my case, I am measuring this based on people’s openness to dream and question. If people are open (and hopefully more open) to this, to engaging others with their questions, hopes, and dreams I believe I have had a small part in transforming a group to a new state of transparency and vitality for the present and future. Being able and aware enough to question assumptions is important. Allowing room for this, allows room for growth, and theologically I believe this is where room is left open for the Spirit to move us and lead us in new ways as we continue to discern what God might be up to in the world.
There are certainly other things I have learned but these four observations seem to stick out especially. What are some insights you have discovered in your own life when leading in transition? Or perhaps some insights you have from your own transitions?
I want to leave you with one last thought. Last night I had the opportunity to attend the ordination of a friend and now officially a colleague of my wife’s. It was a wonderful ordination service, I think made special by the emphasis on the Water, the candlelight feel of a service during the evening in Advent, and especially for the honesty and authenticity which I felt throughout. The greatest thing though was the emphasis on “All.” For this friend, the importance of “all” being welcome, included, invited, etc., is paramount to showing and understanding the vastness of God’s love. That was abundantly clear in last night’s service. As she transitions into and begins her new role as pastor, I would say she is off to a great start. Whatever my next roles are, I hope to be able to begin with just as much of a reminder of why I’m doing what I’m doing- a deep sense of love and gratitude, and a hope to be a part of that in some way (no matter how small or large) in the world.
Credits, Resources, and Sources
Peter F. Drucker, The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Organization, (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2008).
Ronald A. Heifetz & Marty Linsky, “Get on the Balcony,” in Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading, (Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2002), 51-74.
Gil Rendle & Alice Mann, Holy Conversations: Strategic Planning as a Spiritual Practice for Congregations, (Alban Institute, 2003).
Gilbert R. Rendle, Leading Change in the Congregation: Spiritual and Organizational Tools for Leaders, (Alban Institute, 2002).
Anthony B. Robinson, Changing the Conversation: A Third Way for Congregations, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eeerdmans Publishing Company, 2008).
Mark E. Thibodeaux, SJ, God’s Voice Within: The Ignatian Way to Discover God’s Will, (Chicago, IL: Loyola Press, 2010).