how to transition well?

Change happens. We (my husband and I) just finalized a National Team transition. It has been a long process, and we have learned a few things along the way…

Plan the transition.  (I realize this isn’t always possible, especially if the transition is due to a crisis, but when you can…) A good transition is well thought through. We prayed and asked others to pray with us. We organized the process with an educated guess as to how long the steps would take, and stuck to the plan. We announced the coming transition with anticipation. We involved others in the process. All of this made it easier for us to move peacefully towards the future; ensured that the new leader entered his position with less stress, and helped to avoid confusion for others during the transition.

Consider the loss.  Every change – even those for the good – creates loss. Transitions shake stability, change relationships, and adjust structures and job descriptions. Others in the organization wonder how the change will affect them – and don’t like the answer. A good leader will validate this reality, take time to grieve their own losses, and coach his/her people through the process. We communicated early and regularly with everyone we thought of who could be affected by the changes. We met with mentors to process our own thoughts and emotions. We had meetings with those who work with us to ask how they were doing with the changes and what were their concerns. This personal side of the transition is often overlooked, but it is a crucial element of a successful transition.

Pass the baton.  It is important to pass information and relationships to the new leader. In the past, we have entered “blind” into new positions – no information, no alliances, and no training. We were left scrambling to understand, to “catch on”, to figure it out ourselves. We wanted something different this time, so we worked hard to be organized and invested time so that we could train well, pass files, answer questions, and connect new relationships. We clearly defined the timeline for change of authority and responsibility. We invited the new leaders to our home to process their personal concerns and questions. At the office, we talked through the general vision, the people, the finances, and the day-to-day details. We presented the new leaders to our partners. Our plan allows us to personally “coach” during the next months, but the new leaders have successfully begun to lead with clarity and confidence.

Let Go! We experienced pressure to stay longer in the position and pressure to extend our transition timeline because others hadn’t prepared well. Sometimes we were the ones “holding on” when we saw things happening that we didn’t like, and we wanted to maintain control and influence. God told me clearly… “Don’t do it!  This is not all about you.” Others will only grow and take leadership if I move out-of-the-way! We just finished our national conference, and for the first time in many years, we had no responsibilities for the event. You know what? It was a great conference! It is humbling to admit that we are not needed, but it is also an exciting indication of a hopeful future.

End well. Make sure the ending is not an escape from unresolved conflict. Say good-bye well. Express appreciation to those who partnered with you. Take time to evaluate. We worked with some wonderful people. We were part of some great accomplishments. We also experienced a lot of painful criticism and conflict, and we had to leave many of our dreams and plans unfinished. It has been good to process though all of this – forgive others and ourselves – and be able to trust God with the future!

I know I have a lot more to learn about transitions. I would love to hear from you and learn from your experiences. What do you think are the elements of a good transition?

4 thoughts on “how to transition well?

  1. Pingback: Transitioning is a skill | Leader Impact

  2. Maybe another element would be to have something to look for after this phase of life is over. If you finish well, let go, etc. and have nothing ahead of you, nothing to transition to…you will have a very hard time. The temptation will always be to go back to the old, simply because there is nothing new! I understand many times transitions happen suddenly and simply there is no time to think ahead, but on orderly transitions, planning the next phase is as crucial as letting go of the old. Excellent article Terry. Should be required reading for many of us going through transition ourselves. You have done an incredible job in Mexico, I am sure God will take you to new heights in the next place He takes you.
    Layo Leiva

    • Great point, Layo! I totally agree that having something ahead of you will help you let go appropriately! Thanks for taking a look at this and for your encouraging comments! Your leadership has been an example for us!

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