Transitioning Well: Blessing Others

Coaching leaders sometimes involves talking about life transitions and changes. Getting to the next level often requires shifts of some sorts. Leaders always want to be growing, challenged, and  pushed to their best selves. So, doing those things inevitably mandates transitions from old to new, comfortable to challenged, and static to dynamic.

One of the leaders I've had the privilege of coaching this year made a decision to accept a new position, which would give him more leadership challenges, opportunities, and influence. To his credit, he wanted to talk through with me how he could leave well his current position of 10 years. He recognized that so many leaders do not leave well. Bobby Clinton's research revealed that only about 10% of leaders finish well! But this leader was committed to being among the 10% and finishing his current job as best he could.

Brax (not his real name) and I talked through several components of transitioning well, including owning the process, committing to unity, seeking counsel for the new opportunity, and building a bridge to the future. But what really stuck out to Brax was the idea of blessing others as he left. We talked about how he could take every opportunity to thank, encourage, call out, and inspire his people to greatness as he stepped out of his leadership role. It felt awkward to Brax to throw parties for himself when he was the one leaving, but he wanted to gather those he loved and capture memories in his last days with his people. He wanted to leave them with something and instill some final words. He wanted to leave a legacy that was beyond him and for their future.

This week, after Brax's transition was completed, he sent me this email describing how transitioned in his final months. He finished well....

[The commitment to blessing others]...helped frame my entire departure as the stuff that was “all about us” was incredibly uncomfortable for both my wife and me (more on that in a minute).

Anyway, blessing others. I spent a lot of money (some my own, some not) to do this. This sounds stupid, but there’s this mug from ReThink that my wife and I love, (It just says “What would happen if you decided to treat every student like they are made in the image of God”) and I bought 20 of them and gave them to every leader on my team during our Youth Sunday. I know it’s a mug, but I love the message and people have called it their “Brax mug”. I’ve received text messages and Facebook posts when people use them as a thank you. At the end of our day camp we always take the entire staff out to lunch - but this year the staff got too big (almost 30 people) so we talked about having the meal catered and hosting it at the church. But I decided that was too much work and we were going to spent the extra money to get a party room at a local restaurant and all eat together there. It was a nice “final celebration” with them.

Along the same lines, my intern graduated from seminary and I took a group of girls (all freshmen and sophomores) down for it. Afterward, instead of rushing home we all went out to one of our favorite restaurants and spent a few hours together there. This had special meaning because for years I’ve had breakfast at this same restaurant with the seniors monthly, and these girls won’t get that chance.

And finally, my best caper, on my last night I snuck back into the church and hid flowers and $200 in Olive Garden gift cards (enough to treat the whole staff that is there now) in the staff conference room with specific instructions for the staff on how to use it: take the afternoon off when you do, it was a personal gift so you can buy wine with lunch, etc. I got a text from our Children’s Ministry director saying that I was jerk because I made her cry on the first day of VBS and my intern (now Director of Youth Ministry) texted me and said she couldn’t figure out how I snuck it in but that I made a lot of people very happy that morning.

Last but not least - and I am perhaps most proud of this. I managed to get my intern in place as Director of Youth Ministry at a fair salary level. I also pitched the idea of paying an additional amount of money per month until a new Associate was hired and they approved that unanimously. Is she making big bucks? No, but she’s at least in line with comparables within the staff, denomination, and region and getting extra since she won’t have an Associate Pastor. Together, we planned the entire next school year and every Sunday night.

...the idea of “blessing others” was a narrative that enabled me to know how to act during my departure.

They did have a lunch for us (and it was packed) and it was super nice, but incredibly uncomfortable. And even there, I used the chance to thank them, tell them they were great, and challenge them to treat the next pastor they call as well as they treated me. Still thinking to myself, “How can I use this opportunity to bless others and prepare them for what is coming next?”

How beautiful would it be if the next time you transition, you handled your departure with the same amount of intentionality, blessing, and hour? How much healthier would our work environments be if we left as well as we started? And what would happen to the quality of leadership if we thought about others in our transitions more than we thought about ourselves? This is the kind of culture I want to be a part of and cultivate. 

Lead on. Bless others. We will all be better for it.