Creating meaningful leadership transitions

Jennifer Pendergast
Jennifer Pendergast

A few weeks ago, I attended the installation of the new senior minister at my church, the church’s version of the CEO. It gave me cause to reflect on leadership transition. This transition was very significant for our church. It is a large church in a large city which has played a pivotal role in support for the inner city homeless and abused, as well as globally through mission work. Our prior leader, a truly charismatic CEO, had a significant impact on our city and our church over 30 years of service. Our new minister, unknown to the congregation before his selection, was coming with a mandate to build upon our strengths and expand the church population.

What struck me was the significance of the installation ceremony. It was a joyful and very personal celebration, where several peers of the new minister flew in from around the country to participate alongside his family and senior leaders of our church. Our leaders charged him with answering a set of questions about what he would commit to us, in front of the entire congregation. And, then the congregation and his leadership team responded to questions where we voiced our support and commitment to him.

The sense the ceremony conveyed was that we are all in this together – we have a responsibility to support him and he has a responsibility to us to move our church forward. We are working as a team to create success. It really felt like we were ushering in a new era.

I then compared that to the first day of a new CEO. Perhaps, he or she addresses the employees, shares a vision and requests their support. But, rarely is there a sense of partnership, shared expectations and aspirations. Rarely is there an explicit commitment from employees and owners to support the new leader and from the leader to steward the organization’s legacy and carry it forward.

I left thinking there were lessons to be learned about the transition to a new family business CEO.

Unlike CEOs in the public company realm, who often have a short tenure and limited capacity to impact the organization’s culture, family business CEOs are more committed for the long-haul. Wouldn’t it be nice to honor and memorialize the transition, to set mutual expectations and to foster a true sense of commitment to a shared future?


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