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.