This is the time of year for new leadership transitions. In the Catholic world, May to July is usually the season for ordinations and new church assignments. Some are becoming pastors for the first time- others are just moving on. You might be taking over the reins from a great leader, or someone who didn’t really succeed. In any case, every leadership transition means stepping into new and unfamiliar territory.
If that’s you, I hope you’re excited. But don’t get attached to those big ideas just yet. Dwight Eisenhower once said, “Plans are nothing; planning is everything.” Here are six things to keep in mind when preparing for your next leadership transition.
- Inheriting New People
You’re new to them; they’re new to you. But keep in mind, just as you want to be liked and succeed, most people want to like you and see you succeed. It’s where they go to church, after all. Before getting to know the ins-and-outs of every program, get to know the people. Build trust before you build programs. After all, leadership is first about leading people, not programs.
- Inheriting a New Staff
Here’s one of the toughest transitions and potential for conflict. You might be inheriting a great blessing or burden- usually a mix. Learn about them individually, their personality and work style. Learn about their influence (or lack thereof) on the church culture. Patrick Lencioni’s excellent book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, can also help you prepare.
- Inheriting a New Culture
Every organization has a culture, an established pattern of thinking and doing. Culture is the probably the hardest and most frustrating parts of a new church because it takes the longest time and most effort to shape. It permeates everything, but can’t be traced to one person or activity. Acknowledge that you have a personal culture, the church has a culture, and those aren’t always going to align. Both parties can probably learn something. Have some grace and patience, and don’t expect people to change faster than they can handle.
- Inheriting Expectations
Every person in the pew has their own set of expectations for you- how to preach, how you spend your time, money, pastoral priorities, etc. Some expect you to be like the old pastor, their favorite pastor… Decide to be yourself and lead from your own strengths.
- Inheriting a Schedule
Don’t expect to keep your same sleep and work schedule at your new assignment. Of course, Mass times and office hours differ place to place, but times are usually a result of other cultural factors you haven’t though about, or that even make sense.
- Inheriting New Customs
Pastors that don’t try to understand a new church’s customs and traditions are like bad tourists. They leave people upset and make a public display of their own ignorance. Learn what and why people do what they do. Usually (not always) there’s a reason. It might not be a good reason, and the custom needs to go, but that assessment takes time. Learning customs is not just a sign of respect; it can help lead the necessary change when the time is right.
For another take on this topic, check out SamRainer.com