Though the world of the Bible differed greatly from present times, we do find examples of succession that can inform CEO transitions today. For example, Numbers 27:15-23 offers three keen insights from the story of Moses and Joshua.
And Moses said to the Lord, “May the Lord, the God who gives breath to all living things, appoint someone over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.”
So the Lord said to Moses, “Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit of leadership, and lay your hand on him. Have him stand before Eleazar the priest and the entire assembly and commission him in their presence. Give him some of your authority so the whole Israelite community will obey him. He is to stand before Eleazar the priest, who will obtain decisions for him by inquiring of the Urim before the Lord.
At his command he and the entire community of the Israelites will go out, and at his command they will come in.” Moses did as the Lord commanded him. He took Joshua and had him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole assembly. Then he laid his hands on him and commissioned him, as the Lord instructed through Moses.
While there may be many lessons in this ancient text, three points surface as helpful when thinking about CEO succession in modern times. After exploring these, I will offer a tool for boards and CEOs who may be approaching a transitional season.
Let God Choose
When it was time for Moses to transition, he did not call a friend, he called out to God. He asked God to appoint someone. After all, they were God’s people, not his! Additionally, I am confident the Council of Moses, the 70 mentioned in Numbers 11, prayed with him because they shared the burden the people
Is your ministry gearing up for a CEO succession? Step one is to map a season for prayer and fasting for the current CEO and the board. Set aside your desires and ask God to guide the process. For some, it will result in calling a search firm. Others may contact a specific person or share the CEO profile widely. Regardless, pray and follow God’s leading together.
Give Some Authority
Notice the Lord told Moses to give “some authority” to the person He chose. This is hard for most CEOs but is vital for leadership development. Craig Groeschel says, “If you delegate tasks, you create followers. If you delegate authority, you create leaders.” God knew the spirit of leadership was in Joshua, but the people did not know that.
What would it look like for the CEO in your context to delegate authority? There are three important outcomes that result from following God’s design in this. Firstly, the next CEO develops over time rather than getting a crash course. Secondly, this allows the people to embrace the new CEO. Thirdly, the transition is smooth, as illustrated in the final point.
Affirm and Commission
Change is hard for people. CEO transitions are challenging for constituencies. Notice God includes both a strategic step and a spiritual step to help the people navigate it. The strategic step was public affirmation. Coupled with that we see a spiritual step, the laying on of hands, that is repeated numerous times in Scripture.
How might your current CEO help affirm and commission the work of the new CEO? Even the best CEOs only serve for a season. Boards and CEOs who follow this pattern can position the organizations they serve for a strong future. Joshua 1:16-17 shows us that God blessed Moses for following His instructions. He can do the same for your church or ministry.
Then they answered Joshua, “Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obey you. Only may the Lord your God be with you as he was with Moses.”
Will Heath says, “Succession planning is not the last great thing you will do as a leader. Succession planning is the gateway to your greatest season of influence.” Do you have a succession plan? My biblical advice is to let God choose, have the CEO give some authority to his/her successor, and have the current CEO affirm and commission the new one. Also, I’d suggest you check out the free Diagnostic Tool on the GTP website. Answer 36 questions online. Get your diagnostic report. Download free templates. Put your house in order. Boards that take these steps can help the next CEO flourish.
This article was originally posted on the Christian Leadership Alliance Blog on 2 September 2020. For more insights on this topic, check out the webinar recording of “Succession Planning for Sustainability.”