It’s something most of us have experienced. We are working diligently as a member of a team toward a common goal with combined efforts. However, there is something wrong. Our leader slowly becomes less engaged in the work. He or she spends less time with us, less time in the office, less time tending to the details that have made our team thrive over the last number of years. It’s become clear: the leader has stayed too long. It’s at this point that the leader is no longer an asset to the team. In fact, he or she becomes a liability. The team would function better without the leader.
As leaders of teams and churches, we never want to be the leader who has stayed too long. We want to be a part of a fresh and vibrant movement that has a positive energy carrying it forward day by day to greater heights of accomplishment. However, there comes a time in the life of any leader when the signs are clearly saying it’s time to move on. The key to maintaining good relations and a positive team atmosphere is recognizing when the shine of team leadership is beginning to lose its luster. Moving on becomes the most important contribution to the team’s success that the leader can make.
Relinquishing leadership for the team doesn’t have to be an awful and awkward experience. It can be positive and life-giving. It can be the natural outpouring of a team’s development.
Before we jump into some of the reasons a leader might want to leave a team, we must address the root to a successful stepping down: preparation. Any team leader who thinks his or her time is completed really cannot do so quickly or without creating a plan for departure that will be beneficial to the team and leave them in good standing. Sometimes that means finding a replacement leader or at least having a plan in place to select the new leader at some time in the near future. An effective leader will consider project timing and major events, as well as the development process of all of the team members. While it may never be the perfect timing to vacate the leadership role, a considerate leader will not want to leave the team high and dry and in crisis mode because of a leadership void. Prepare and involve others as much as possible in your decision to leave and when to do it.
So now, when might it be the right time for a leader to leave?
1) When you’ve completed the job you were brought in to do.
Some leaders have skills required by teams to guide them through a specific project, a start-up phase, or period of transition. Some leaders are given a mandate that can be completed. When the time comes and the team has completed that mandate, it’s time for you as the leader to step down and let the team move on to their next phase of involvement. This is of course not a reflection on the skills of the leader and should not be viewed in a negative light. In fact, it should be considered very positive that the leader was able to navigate the team into a time of project completion so that they as a group can take on whatever is next for the organization.
2) When your skills can’t help the team continue to grow.
There are times in the life of a leader when he or she has given all they can give to the team that is within their own area of expertise, skills, training, or gifting. Despite a genuine desire to continue on in leading the team, an effective leader must recognize and evaluate his or her ability to serve the team and take them forward in progress toward the mission and vision of their organization. None of us as leaders have every skill necessary to accomplish every task or meet every need. Sometimes team members outgrow and outpace the leader, and he or she can step down confidently, knowing they’ve done the best they can and look forward to seeing how a new leader can grow the team more effectively and with greater skill, potentially even in a new direction.
3) When it’s time to train a new leader.
The joy of any leader should be the day when they realize that one of their team members has grown and developed so much that they are ready to become a team leader. Training new leadership should be the goal of any good leader, and it should be a delight to step aside to let the new leader take the reigns for a period of time or permanently. The leader could perhaps still remain as a member of the team, offering advice, and acting as a sounding board for the new leader, a cheerleader of sorts. This is a positive marking of leadership and should be done with great enthusiasm when the time comes.
4) When you have moved on from the vision and mission of the team.
As we as both leaders and individuals continue to grow and develop, there are times in life when our personal priorities change and our vision for the future is no longer what it once was. It may be the case that our personal development as a leader has led us away from the mission and vision of the team we are leading and the organization as a whole. That is okay. These changes in the things we find important in life, work, and ministry are natural. If you as a leader find yourself in one of these times of transition, a lack of continuing alignment with the values of the team could produce challenging situations and a perceived lack of loyalty. Therefore, leaders may decide to step down during these times when life leads them in a different direction. Again, this can be done with planning and courtesy to the team and does not have to be something done suddenly or with tension. Team members will appreciate honesty and openness and will likely understand the position of the leader as they are brought along in the process.
Stepping down from a beloved position of leadership is never easy. However, it can be done with grace and confidence with good preparation and communication. The team’s future ability to thrive depends on it.