One of the things I love about living in Kentucky is how distinct every season is. And as a bonus, sometimes we can get all four in a week! But each season has its own feel, its own qualities, and its own challenges. Leaders travel through different seasons in their journey--each has its own qualities and responses. And like the calendar, leadership seasons are cyclical. Here's my best shot at how the seasons flow.
The Honeymoon season of leadership is where a new leader enters the scene and everything is exciting, new, fresh, and optimistic. If you come into a dire situation, you are viewed as a source of hope. If you come into a healthy situation, you are viewed as the successor to continue pressing on. In ministry, this is the equivalent of the "Freshman 15" for college students. Be ready for a lot of casseroles, baked goods, and people wanting to have lunch with you. The emphasis in this stage should be adjusting your family, developing relationships, and spending time talking and listening to folks.
The Pushback season of leadership is when the honeymoon ends. You had this too in your marriage. This was that first fight after settling into your apartment. Our first pushback was over how to sort laundry. Sounds silly, but your first argument with your spouse probably was too. In leadership, pushback happens when you make a change or when they find out you're not Superman. It's not wrong or bad, it's reality. None of us can ever live up to the expectations or imagination of what people think a leader should be. Or pushback can come when a leader feels impressed to make a change of something that has "always been done this way." It's important for a leader to remember to that any change initiative should be done slowly, with others on board, and with careful calculation of the cost and impact on your strategy. Changing something because you don't like it is dumb. Changing something because it doesn't advance the mission or connect people to Jesus is worth exploring. But no matter how small or insignificant you think something is, it likely means something to someone. So be ready for the pushback season. How you handle this is important. Will you listen to people or will you surround yourself with yes men? Will you communicate clearly your heart and intent? Will you build a coalition of other leaders or will you go out on the ledge with a chainsaw alone?
The hopeful next season after pushback is what I'll call "Values, Vision, and Purpose." This is the season where who you are starts to shape who the church is, and what's important starts to rise to the top. Maybe you've got a dream of what you want things to look like down the road? When you share that and craft that, and ultimately write it down, you're capturing a vision. When you write down your values, you're laying out what's most important to you as a church, and what you will shape your priorities, budget, programming, and emphases around. And when you lay out purpose, you are laying out why and for whom you're working. These are huge, because now you're in the season of creating new norms, of cultivating a culture, and beginning the process of transformation. Like working outside during August, this season is hard work. It requires a leader to be proactive, to be relational, and to keep the endgame in mind. It's a huge task, but effective leaders are able to wear multiple hats.
The next season is Mission. This is where things click, where what's been laid out as important is now put into practice. Maybe one of your values is building strong families. At the mission season, you're developing effective next generation ministries, hosting marriage seminars, and preaching regularly on the importance of the home and family for faith formation. If you're into Tuckman's Group Stages, this is similar to the "Performing" stage. Because you've laid out a vision of where things could be, you've given people a goal to chase. Because values have been normed, there's focus on what's important. And since you've laid out purpose, people are willing to serve and take on new projects and ministries because they see the One they're serving.
The last season in the cycle is Transitions. Every church is both organization and organism. People come and go, jobs will take key leaders away, funerals will mark the end of a faithful legacy of people you counted on, and new people will be moving from attender to member to minister. Along with that, healthy organizations occasionally need to go through a process of evaluation and modification. Maybe there's a ministry that once was effective but has gone past its time, or a staff member gets a shift in their job description to match a new sense of calling. These things are normal, healthy, and good. But they require transitions. A transition is different than a change. In a change, things get shuffled and flipped. But in a transition, there's an intentional effort to honor what's been done, identify who can step into the gap, and turn the page to a new chapter. So cheer on the deacon who took a new job across the country, cry with their family, and let them finish well. Then, fill the gap with another qualified leader.
Because the Transition season marks a whole shift in the leader's emphasis, we renew the cycle. So after a leader goes through Transitions, they'll go through Pushback as new leaders and new processes start to take shape which are different than what had been done before. And from there it moves to the Values, Vision and Purpose, then to Mission, and again back to Transitions. What's also worth mentioning is that like Kentucky where the seasons change daily sometimes, there is some fluidity in the Pushback, Values Vision & Purpose, and Mission seasons. Sometimes you'll float back and forth between those, and that's where a leader's flexibility and adaptivity is important (for more on this, check out Situational Leadership).
The season that hasn't been mentioned is the Departure season. In this, a leader is the one making the transition. But it takes a tangent off the cycle because it impacts things much differently. And in the Departure season, the church takes the initiative to make sure that the leader is able to leave well and move off the cycle. In my book Dream Teams, I talk about the importance of leaving well. It's important for a leader to make sure they are setting up the church to continue on without them, and for the church to make sure the hard work and legacy of the leader is celebrated (but not idolized). Because a Departure season naturally means a significant transition, I took it off the cycle, it's inevitable that a Departure season is going to be a "lame duck" in a lot of ways. It's hard to get behind new initiatives because the next leader will bring a different set of ideas, gifts, and personality.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.