The ABC’s of Transition: Cherish the Relationships

June 24, 2020

We have looked at how Moses acknowledged the realities in his transition and how he blessed Joshua, his successor. In this final issue, we will look at how he cherished the relationships. The story tells us the profound impact of his death on the people. “The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over” (Deuteronomy 34:8).

The death of Moses was a monumental event for the nation of Israel. Moses led them out of Egypt and for forty years in the desert. He was the only leader they had known and now he was gone! Their mourning demonstrated the depth of relationships that Moses had with the people.

In the thirty days of mourning they must have recalled the many stories of his leadership. They remembered how he confronted Pharaoh, parted the Red Sea, brought them the Ten Commandments, covered his shining face after being in God’s presence, constructed the tabernacle, and ordained Aaron. They told stories of the time he brought water from the rock, watched the earth swallow Dathan and Abiram, put up the bronze snake to save them from the plague and appointed 70 elders.

Moses’ transition reminds us all that leadership is ultimately about relationships. His leadership was not about how many people he led or how many years he led them. His influence was not measured in the distance he took them from Egypt to the border of the Promised Land. His leadership was measured by relationships. In transition, servant leaders learn to cherish all the relationships involved.

Cherish the relationships of those you have led. Moses loved the people he led. The entire book of Deuteronomy is his farewell address to the people for whom he was willing to give up his place in heaven (see Exodus 32:31,32). As he came to the end of his leadership journey, he took one chapter (Deuteronomy 33) to bless each of the tribes. Moses’ transition reveals the grieving of the loss of relationships that was required.

Servant leaders learn that a part of cherishing relationships is to release them. A transition in leadership requires a change of relationships and a releasing of those you have loved. A servant leader may be able to maintain friendships with people after they move on, but they acknowledge that they will no longer be their pastor, boss, manager or director. Servant leaders cherish these relationships but do not expect them to continue in the same way.

Cherish the relationship with those who will lead. We have already looked at the way Moses blessed Joshua, his successor as he laid hands on him in the presence of everyone. Earlier, Joshua was by his side as he sang his final song to the nation (Deuteronomy 32:44).

Moses honored this relationship and demonstrates to all servant leaders how to cherish the relationship with our successor. There can be some tension or awkwardness in the relationship with the one who follows you. But servant leaders honor their successor by refusing to listen to the questions or complaints of those they previously led. They graciously point others in the direction of the new leader.

Cherish the relationships of the future. Moses’ transition was a final departure from this world. He entered into a new realm of eternal relationships. But for most of us, our transition will lead us from leadership in one group or location to another. The time of mourning will one day be over as it was for Moses.

While servant leaders grieve the loss of relationships in a transition, they anticipate with joy the relationships of the future. Their heart to serve will lead them to new relationships. And as they pour their life and love into those new relationships, with time these relationships will become as rich and full as those they are leaving behind.

Servant leaders transition well. Whether they are going through a transition or preparing for one they learn from Moses to acknowledge the realities, bless their successor and cherish relationships.

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler

For further reflection and discussion:

  • In the transitions I have observed, how have I seen leaders doing well at cherishing relationships? How have I seen relationships handled poorly?   
  • In previous transitions in my leadership, how well have I done at cherishing relationships? What was the result?
  • In my current role, what do I need to do today to cherish the relationships God has entrusted to me?

The ABC’s of Transition: Bless the Successor

June 10, 2020

In the last issue we looked at how Moses accepted the realities of his transition. Now, let’s turn our attention to Joshua, his successor.

9Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the LORD had commanded Moses. 10Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, 11who did all those signs and wonders the LORD sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. 12For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel” (Deuteronomy 34:9-12).

Moses blessed Joshua in several ways and shows all servant leaders how to bless their successor when they transition.

Prepare them well. Joshua was “filled with the spirit of wisdom.” This came after years of investment and preparation by Moses in his life. Moses shared responsibilities with Joshua. He provided opportunities for Joshua to encounter God and mingle with other national leaders. Joshua was able to gain experience in battle, make mistakes, and much more. When it was time for transition, Moses had already prepared Joshua well.

Servant leaders don’t wait for transition to invest in the lives of other leaders, it’s a part of their heart to see others succeed. They bless their successor by preparing them well. In situations where the leader does not have the privilege of choosing their successor, they do their best to hand over in a way that allows their successor to succeed. And they do all they can to prepare the people to receive the new leader.

Commission them well. Moses “laid hands on him.” This symbolic act was a significant part of Moses’ transition process. By laying his hands on Joshua, Moses publicly acknowledged that he was no longer the leader. His hands blessed Joshua to succeed him as he transferred his leadership authority. The outcome was beautiful, “the Israelites listened to him and did what the LORD had commanded Moses.”

When servant leaders transition well, God’s work continues without interruption. Servant leaders don’t quietly exit their roles. They openly bless the new leader and seek to transfer to him or her the trust and influence they have worked hard to develop. Publicly and privately they do all they can to ensure the success of their successor.

Leave them well. The final gift that Moses gave to Joshua was to disappear from the scene! He didn’t stay around to evaluate Joshua’s effectiveness or to point out mistakes. He left! Servant leaders transition well by leaving when their time finishes. Servant leaders don’t need to die to leave well! But they let their ego die and make sure they get out of the way of the new leader. They make it clear that they will no longer serve in their former role. When possible and appropriate, they provide physical distance of space and time to allow the new leader to pick up responsibilities without their interference.

Obviously, there may be times when a transition involves a gradual transfer of power and the transitioning leader continues to provide some form of mentoring or coaching to the new leader. This can be a healthy transition. But there will always be a time when staying longer does more harm than good! Servant leaders are willing to leave and let others pick up their role.

Servant leaders long for the success of the group they lead. So, they prepare successors long before their transition. And when it is time to transition, they bless them with good preparation and public commissioning. Then they get out of the way!

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler

For further reflection and discussion:

  • In transitions I have observed how have I seen leaders doing well at blessing their successor? How have I seen a lack of blessing for successors? What were the long-term results? 
  • In previous transitions in my leadership how well have I done at blessing my successor?
  • In my current role, what do I need to do today to best prepare for another person to succeed me?

In the next issue, we’ll examine the “C” in the ABC’s of transitioning well:

Acknowledge the Realities

Bless the Successor

Cherish the Relationships.