Every organization deals with transition, some even handle it well! For the past 30 years I have been well acquainted with the transition process organizations go through, whether it be food service, security, or church. Because the common denominator is people, the response is similar despite the organization. When leadership changes a few truths come into play that will follow many, if not all, of the Kubler-Ross model of grief.
Panic – while this may not be widespread, there is a fear and anxiety that establishes itself in the group. There is no sense of direction. There is a feeling of dread, especially on the part of those who enjoyed the established leadership. In these moments people do crazy things. Some will quit or leave. Others will rise up and demand power. Many will sit in shock and awe and not have the ability to function for a period of time. When we found out the security company was being sold, widespread panic filled the office. No one was guaranteed a job. Everyone would be interviewed by the new company to see if there was a position available.
Anger – there will be those in the organization who get angry at the situation, but will take it out on others. The sense of loss a group feels can collectively turn to rage. The night I resigned a church a few years ago was a life-defining moment because it was not my sole decision. This was a mutual agreement between two parties for the good of the whole. During the evening, there were several unsolicited responses in defense of me and in offense to others. This anger was a result of the initial panic and outrage of what was unfolding before them. Given their history, Israel probably had issue with Moses not being the one to lead them into the promised land.
7 Moses was 120 years old when he died; his eyes were not weak, and his vitality had not left [him].
According to this scripture, there was nothing wrong with Moses. How often do we feel this emotion? A leader exits and there seems to be no reason. The people mourned for 30 days, which was a traditional amount of time. Certainly there were those who feigned the mourning while others genuinely did so.
Guilt – there will be those who will consider what they did to cause this transition. What could they have done differently? How could they have retained the leadership. Unfortunately, there is often nothing that could have happened. This guilt, while admirable in leading toward responsibility, can be destabilizing if allowed to run too far. On different occasions, Moses told the people that God was angry at him because of them. Now that Moses was gone, how many ask the question, “What could we done differently?”
25 Please let me cross over and see the beautiful land on the other side of the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon.
26 “But the Lord was angry with me on account of you and would not listen to me. The Lord said to me, ‘That’s enough! Do not speak to Me again about this matter.
21 “The Lord was angry with me on your account. He swore that I would not cross the Jordan and enter the good land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance. 22 I won’t be crossing the Jordan because I am going to die in this land. But you are about to cross over and take possession of this good land.
Acceptance – after a period of time the organization realizes stagnation is imminent unless a new leader is chosen. Those who sit on the board of directors or church leadership refocus and begin a search for the next leader. God had already chosen Joshua. Moses had relayed this truth to the people already.
9 Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites obeyed him and did as the Lord had commanded Moses.
How does an organization move forward? Once acceptance has been reached, even if just barely, what happens next? I think there are a few things that we all should review.
1. Express how you feel in community. Moses was mourned for 30 days. The leader of the people and voice for God over 40 years was gone. Their emotion was deep, heartfelt, and necessary. Every organization needs to allow for emotive communication. David, while hiding in the Cave of Adullam during a transition of leadership wrote these words.
1 Be gracious to me, God, be gracious to me,
for I take refuge in You.
I will seek refuge in the shadow of Your wings
until danger passes.
2 I call to God Most High,
to God who fulfills [His purpose] for me.
3 He reaches down from heaven and saves me,
challenging the one who tramples me. Selah
God sends His faithful love and truth.
4 I am surrounded by lions;
I lie down with those who devour men.
Their teeth are spears and arrows;
their tongues are sharp swords.
5 God, be exalted above the heavens;
let Your glory be over the whole earth.
2. Establish your point of reference. David was very emotional! What artist isn’t? Throughout the Psalms, David would share his pain, grief, anger, need for vengeance, and more. He often concluded his songs reminding himself that God is sovereign and worthy to be praised, worshiped, and followed regardless of the current circumstances.
7 My heart is confident, God, my heart is confident.
I will sing; I will sing praises.
8 Wake up, my soul!
Wake up, harp and lyre!
I will wake up the dawn.
9 I will praise You, Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to You among the nations.
10 For Your faithful love is as high as the heavens;
Your faithfulness reaches the clouds.
11 God, be exalted above the heavens;
let Your glory be over the whole earth.
3. Engage the process of discovery of new leadership. While Joshua was already chosen like the eldest son of a sitting Monarch, the people needed a process by which they engaged this new leader. They did not have search teams and interviews, but they needed to be a part of the process. Joshua was commissioned for the task in Deuteronomy 31. As a follow-up to this procedure, Joshua had the people reaffirm their commitment.
16 They answered Joshua, “Everything you have commanded us we will do, and everywhere you send us we will go. 17 We will obey you, just as we obeyed Moses in everything. And may the Lord your God be with you, as He was with Moses. 18 Anyone who rebels against your order and does not obey your words in all that you command him, will be put to death. Above all, be strong and courageous!”
The next time your organization experiences a transition be sure to handle it with care. Just make sure you handle it!