One of the toughest issues for leaders is to know when to leave. In both the church and broader ministry world I have watched way to many leaders stay beyond their effectiveness and literally have to be pushed out of their leadership role because they hang onto it so tenaciously. Many around them know it is time but they refuse to acknowledge that. It puts both the board and the organization in a tough place. How do we move a leader on who needs to move on?
A friend recently observed that if we leave when our constituency wants to stay we are always welcome back. On the other hand if we leave when they finally convince you to leave the situation is much different because we have overstayed our welcome and created issues in the process.
How do we know when it is time? First when we have taken the ministry as far as we can take it there is no question it is time. We may have literally run out of ideas and ability to take the ministry to the next level. That is not a criticism of us it is just the reality of how we are wired. We have done what we could do and now it is time for someone else to step in who has the ability to take what we have led to the next level.
Second, when we start to get feedback from staff that we are not moving ahead and they get restless we need to pay close attention. Staff are a barometer of how we are doing in many cases. Often leaders feel this restlessness from their staff but choose not to give them permission to speak candidly and honestly to us. Thus they may be talking to one another but not to us, not because they would not if asked but because we have not given them permission. We become the last ones to know what they are really thinking.
Third, since most of us report to a board if we are in a senior position there needs to be an opportunity from time to time to candidly discuss our leadership and how we are doing as leaders. Don't wait to have this discussion when things are going badly. Start this discussion when things are going well in order to establish a culture where honest and candid dialogue can take place. That allows us to talk together over time which makes it more likely we can be honest about our leadership.
There is a key principle that all leaders need to understand but that many do not. What we lead does not belong to us. We are stewards for a season. Seasons have a beginning and an end. And as stewards rather than owners we need to place the needs of the ministry above our own preferences or desires. Knowing when to leave a ministry is about understanding what the ministry needs rather than what we want. That is a crucial distinction.
All of T.J. Addington's books including his latest, Deep Influence, are available from the author for the lowest prices and a $2.00 per book discount on orders of ten or more.