THE STEWARD LEADER AND SUCCESSION PLANNING
By Al Hearne
August 2, 2023
Working with people at any level constantly challenges any leader; it involves thoughts, feelings, emotions, and expectations. Leaders strive for clear communication, yet how often do misunderstandings take place?
Working with people and developing them for duties and responsibilities at a higher level is even more messy. I believe that one of the reasons that more leaders don’t practice succession planning is because of understandable questions that arise whenever working with employees or volunteers: “What happens if I thoroughly train [insert name] and they leave us to take a promotion at another organization, what will I do” or “What happens if I thoroughly train [insert name] and there is no opportunity for advancement, will they become upset.”
In my dissertation research, I learned that questions like these are why steward leaders need to practice succession planning and fully develop their people to fill potential openings either at their organization or another.
The Perspective of a Steward Leader
A steward leader does not think like an owner, asking, “What if I lose [insert name].” A steward leader recognizes that God is the owner, enjoying full ownership rights, while the steward leader is the manager responsible to God and will someday give an accounting for every decision made. Leaders are accountable to God for how they spend their time, treasure, talent, and relationships. This is why Psalm 46:10 is one of my favorite Psalms; it captures an integral element of being a steward leader, “Be still and know that I am God.” In the context of Psalm 46, “be still” means to “cease and desist” to stop what you are doing and to allow God to act (Wilson, 2002). This includes allowing God to act in the lives of our followers.
Steward leaders today are not facing physical battles with armies, as the author of Psalm 46 is writing about. Instead, they face the struggles of their organizations, whatever that may be. Rather than having the nagging thought of “what happens if,” the steward leader embraces God’s calling on their own life as they lead and God’s calling on everyone they lead. Perhaps it is God’s calling for [insert name] to be fully developed and leave the organization to go and be a blessing somewhere else.
God Supersedes Succession Plans
In my dissertation about Christian school superintendent transition practices, I recommended that Christian school superintendents and boards “Develop leaders and allow them to follow God’s call. Begin a leadership development program; invest in and train your staff in all aspects of school administration. Delegate responsibilities and duties, provide general guidelines and direction, and avoid micromanagement. Provide opportunities for others to lead. Encourage professional growth opportunities, credentials, and certifications. Do this with a humble understanding that your mentoring may bear fruit at your school in the future, or it may be a blessing to another Christian school” (Hearne, 2019, p. 164). Little did I know that two years later, I would have to take my advice, as God called the RCS Middle School & High School Principal, Ben Warner, to become the head of school at another Christian school.
RCS had a succession plan in place before God called Ben away. I was not worried; I was not concerned; RCS has a plan! Two assistant principals were in training if God called a principal to another school. Before He called Ben to another school, God called one assistant principal to church ministry. When I approached the other assistant principal and offered the position, he responded that God had shown him his heart was with leading students, not adults. Although challenged by this setback, I did my best not to worry; I prayed, asking God to send the right candidate to become the next RCS High School principal. Although it took many more months than I wanted, God led the right candidate, Justin Redemer, to RCS. Ben and Justin have served for a complete school year in God’s new calling on their lives. Ben quickly became a blessing at his new school. Meanwhile, Justin promptly became a blessing at RCS. I am excited to see how God will use both of them in their second year at their respective schools.
Leadership Development to Enhance God’s Kingdom in the Future
According to Dixit (2023, May 16) there is currently a shortage of leaders available for three reasons: generational shifts, the pandemic, and a lack of proper training and development. This bold claim is based on two HR studies, one from before and during the pandemic. A shortage of leaders means that steward leaders need to engage in succession planning, developing their people to be a blessing to their organization or another. With proper leadership, organizations can succeed; without it, they can’t.
The most basic premise of succession planning is leadership development for the future. It is a process to ensure the success and stability of an organization by recognizing leaders and developing their gifts, talents, and abilities. A succession plan can be as simple or complex as an organization wants to make it. It involves identifying talented people and developing them to take on new and differing responsibilities or positions when people retire, leave, or move up the ladder. As I discovered at RCS, succession planning at one organization may become a blessing to another organization. RCS helped Ben to grow and develop, and God called him to lead a Christian school. Meanwhile, as a Head Football Coach, an English Department Head, and Men’s Ministry Director, Justin was also given opportunities to grow and develop, which prepared him to become a Principal at RCS.
The starting point for succession planning is to recognize future leaders, which is stewarding the relationships within an organization. Identify potential leaders through their desire, influence, inspiration, optimism, performance, potential, and values. After identifying them, start a leadership development program and provide them with opportunities to lead projects and activities. Assign them the project’s or activity’s responsibility and the authority to lead it, then hold them accountable through mentoring and coaching, which is stewarding an organization’s time. Help foster their growth and development through self-assessment and reflective practice. As they grow and develop, assign them more challenging projects and activities to lead to expand their leadership capacity.
Embracing God’s Plan
A steward leader’s journey involves faith, trust, and obedience. Recognizing that God is the owner and that as God’s steward, they are entrusted with responsibility for His people in their organization should transform how steward leaders approach and implement succession planning. While it is natural to have concerns about investing in individuals who may leave or upset someone because there is currently no opportunity for promotion, a steward leader understands that it is essential to follow God’s calling for each person, even if it means training and developing now only to have this hard work become a bless another organization.
Have you aligned your organization’s leadership development program with God’s calling for each individual, knowing that their growth and development may lead them to be a blessing to your organization or another?
The Steward Leader and Succession Planning was reposted with permission from Christian Leadership Alliance.
Dixit, J. (2023, May 16). A leadership crisis is looming – Here’s how to prepare. Neuroleadership. https://neuroleadership.com/your-brain-at-work/how-to-prepare-for-looming-leadership-crisis
Hearne, A. (2019). How the baton is passed: An examination of superintendent transition practices at large, accredited ACSI schools in the United States (Publication No. 13856804) [Doctoral dissertation, Columbia International University]. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global.
Wilson, G. H. (2002). The New International Version Application Commentary: Psalms Volume 1. Zondervan.
Dr. Al Hearne II is the Superintendent of Redwood Christian Schools, the Center for Steward Leader Studies President, and an adjunct professor for Columbia International University. He holds a Master’s of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from Columbia International University. Most importantly, he is the husband of Megan and the father of Oscar, Stephen, and Elliot!