3 Suggestions for a Leadership Transition

When a new leader enters the picture, the opening days are critical to the leader’s success. First impressions matter. In the numerous times I’ve been the “new guy”, I’ve learned that the impressions created in the initial days…positive or negative…are often hard to overcome. The initial momentum a new leader may have can be jeopardized by the environment created during the opening days of his or her leadership tenure.

In case you haven’t heard, I’m transitioning to a new ministry role in the next few weeks.

Recently I met with all the staff of the new church. I had spent time with the lead staff, but this was everyone. Some of these people, simply because of the nature of our responsibilities, I will spend less time with than others. I know with this group, a poor impression in the beginning will be harder to overcome, because I will have less opportunity to correct it.

In an attempt to release some of the pressure on this early phase, I shared with them three requests for the beginning of my tenure as a leader.

Here are 3 suggestions I shared for my leadership transition:

Level the playing field – If we are going to be a team, let’s act like it from the beginning. I told them if they treat me less like a boss, I’ll treat them more like partners in ministry. I realize there is tension and apprehension with any change of leadership. The more we can get on equal ground from the beginning the less tension all of us will feel. I want to be seen as a team player from the start. I realize they are looking to me for leadership, and I’ll assume that role, but I lead as a part of the team, not outside the team.

Lower the bar – I set high expectations for my teams. I’m seldom completely satisfied with myself or the teams I lead. I want to be effective in every area of the ministry. I like to celebrate accomplishment, but I’m always wondering how we could do things better next time. In the early days of a leader’s tenure, however, the team may not be functioning on all cylinders yet. That’s okay. That will come in time.

For the early days, let’s not expect to get things right every time. Let’s not expect that we will perfectly gel at first. Let’s give some time for error and mistakes to be made (by others and me), which will help us be a better team in the future. In the early days, it’s important for the new leader to learn the team dynamics, the individual strengths and weakness of team members, and to assess how a team can function better. It’s important for the team members to learn how the leader thinks and responds to situations and to develop enough trust and respect in him or her to willingly follow. That takes time.

Limit the confusion – Miscommunication is deadly in the early days of a new relationship. Let’s not be afraid to ask questions such as, “What do you mean? Are you saying _____? Are you sure that’s what you want to do? Can you help me understand why_____?” Even if you have to say, “Ron, you’re an idiot!” it would be better than misunderstanding something and building wedges in our relationship that may take months or years to correct. The communication in the beginning days are that important. We must practice good listening skills and have the patience to explain ourselves when needed. I shared with them that I’ve been accused by teams in the past of not giving enough to details to be understood completely. If you are uncertain what I’m asking you to do, please ask. I will not be offended.

I realize all of this will take time for them to learn to trust me as a leader, but hopefully we can create an atmosphere in the beginning conducive for a healthy team to form. Over the next few weeks and months, I’ll be share more stories and thoughts on this transition process.

Help me out seasoned pastors, ministers and leaders. What are some things I should do and shouldn’t do in the early days of this transition?

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Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 18 Comments

  • […] 3 Suggestions For Leadership Transition  This is another gem from Ron Edmondson.  Ron is in the midst of a leadership transition as he has taken a new church in Kentucky.  Ron’s principles can be applied anywhere leadership transition is taking place.  Leadership transitions are always a fragile time in the life of an organization.  These principles are foundational to getting you through it. […]

  • Melissa says:

    Just be yourself Ron and remember even though 'churching' can be a business, help all to remember it's about God and not profits, it's about conversion of hearts towards Jesus.

    I battle with the new churches being too trendy (and with old churches fading away), the 'new' churches being too socially connected. I know all of that is necessary, but know that method of communication cannot take a front seat in our quest to learn more, love more and live more in walk with the Lord.

    Prayers for continued smooth transitions to you and your family.

  • Thank you Ron. I appreciate your transparency and authenticity. Both will help with your transition. i particularly loved the line – "if they treat me less like a boss, I’ll treat them more like partners in ministry." Great thought.

  • Mike Williams says:

    I'm in transition now, Thanks

  • Communication. Over communication. I'd think that would be incredibly important in the transition. Especially without a solid relationship. Good suggestion, Ron.

  • Remember that "Things Take Time".
    Hence, take time to build the trust; this will, in return, bring in exponential retiurns from your team.

    Also, remember the power of incremental change over time. So, be consistent; keep persisting; keep tracking your progess; you will create a legacy one day.

  • Joe Lalonde says:

    Congratulations on your transition Ron. I know it'll be a great one for you.

    One suggestion I would make is "Get to know your team members individually."

    A lot of confusion can come from not knowing your team well. There are little things that can be game changers, and you need to know them. While it might be hard, spending 10-15 minutes with each member could be the best thing you do as a leader.

  • cycleguy says:

    Being an extrovert I have a different problem than you probably have. I am naturally too open at the start. I need to guard that. Being more introverted (your words) you may not have that problem. I was in one church where I opened up way too early to a staff person and from that point on I felt he had no respect for me.

    • ronedmondson says:

      That's a good word. Cheryl and I have discussed this because it is more of an issue for her than me. You're right about my introversion.

  • Jo Wheaton says:

    Ron – as a member of the church you will be leading soon, my favorite part of your post was the idea that we will be "partners in ministry." I am so looking forward to a pastor who wants to "get down in the trenches" with the rest of the staff and the members. I am excited about the journey that we are about to embark upon, and I look forward to making that journey with you and Cheryl. Jo Wheaton

    • ronedmondson says:

      Awesome. Fun days ahead. You realize this also means the pastor doesn't do ALL the work! Let's get busy!

      • Jo Wheaton says:

        Ron – absolutely! In my mind, we will be so busy doing God's work that we will be bumping into each other! I think I speak for the congregation in saying that if we have a leader at the center of God's will, then we will change this city! I am so excited about the possibilities. Blessings!

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