This is the bonus blog … a New Year, ‘two for the price of one’ deal if you like, but a bit different from the other blogs.
One of the purposes behind this grown up gap year is to take time out to think and ponder. One of the questions I have been wrestling with is why ‘succesful’ organisations find it so hard to sustain that success from one generation to the next. In posing that question I was thinking mainly about churches, but the same applies to businesses, sports teams and even families. Why is it that you see a church for instance thrive for a period of time under the guidance of a charismatic leader only for it to fade away after that leader has gone? The key question is what do leaders need to do to lay down a lasting legacy?
If we think of it in terms of leaving a physical legacy the first thing we need to be clear about is who are we leaving the legacy to – who is it we are handing our leadership mantle on to? Whilst it is tempting to think of ourselves as the person that is holding the church, the team or the family together it is fundamentally a failure of leadership if we don’t identify and train up the person or people who will come after us to take the organisation forward.
And not only to train them to take over from us and do what we did, but train them to do more and to be more than we are. The greatest examples from the Bible show us that inspiring leaders are those who had a higher expectation of those who would follow than they had of themselves. Elisha carried a double portion of anointing from Elijah, Solomon was the one appointed to build the temple that his father, King David, was prevented from building and even Jesus himself said that his followers would do greater things than he did because he was going to the Father. None of those leaders – Elijah, King David or Jesus – can be said to be diminished because they held greater expectation of those that followed than they had of themselves!
There are though countless examples of the opposite spirit – the charismatic leader, the dominating parent or the powerful chief executive who project themselves as being the person upon whom success or failure depend and whose ego is fed by being seen as ‘number one’. I am sure all of you could insert any number of names into those slots. I am by contrast rather drawn to the leader I heard speak once who said ‘there is only one thing better than scoring a try at rugby, and that is seeing your son score a try at rugby!’. What joy there is in seeing our children succeed in ways we never could.
So, if we need to identify who we are leaving our legacy to (as we do when we write a will) and if we need to train them to take on the leadership mantle with an expectation they will do greater things than we did, there is one more thing that needs to happen for the legacy to pass – and this is possibly the hardest step of all for a leader to take – there has to be a death.
Not a physical death I hope, because the fun should be in actually seeing your plans come to fruition, but rather a time when you as leader step aside and let the next generation lead without you. Maybe this is the time to move onto other things, to start new projects, to take your leadership gifts and apply them elsewhere but whatever you do, step aside and let your successors lead without you. That is a tough ask but unless you can let go completely then you have created nothing that will last, let alone thrive.
Maybe we need to reassess how we judge success. Maybe the success of a great leader is not how the organisation performed while they were at the helm, but rather how it performed after they left!
Please let me know your thoughts on what I have written – does this strike a chord with you or have I got it completely wrong?