As the years passed and King David grew older, his followers bickered over who would be his successor. Haggith, the mother of Adonijah and General Joab, maneuvered to gain control for Adonijah. However, both the prophet Nathan and Bathsheba reminded David that he had promised the throne to Solomon.
The king said to Bathsheba, “I will surely carry out today what I swore to you by the Lord, the God of Israel: Solomon your son shall be king after me, and he will sit on my throne in my place” (1 Kings 1:29-30).
David ordered Zadok the priest to anoint Solomon as king and to blow the trumpet and announce it publicly. “Then…he is to come and sit on my throne and reign in my place. I have appointed him ruler over Israel and Judah” (1 Kings 1:34-35). The king’s decisiveness probably spared the nation from an ugly civil war.
This biblical leader’s example reminds older leaders today of the importance of gracefully stepping aside at the appropriate time. There are several reasons why it is wise to approach transitions intentionally.
Exiting with grace
1. The first reason is that—like David—we can help determine our successor and perhaps help avoid internal bickering and division.
2. Another motivation is that in the aging process we lose energy and creativity. It happens so slowly that we barely notice. Yet rare is the 65-year-old who still gets excited about implementing new ideas.
3. Timely transitions are also important because older leaders almost always lose the ability to inspire younger people. While we may not feel that different, the younger generation regards us as out-of-touch. While that may not be true, perception becomes reality. A 60-year-old minister can say the same thing as a 30-year-old but not exert nearly as much impact. As we age, we lose the ability to relate to youth; to pretend otherwise is unrealistic.
4. When we make a smooth, proper transition, the one stepping down can move on to another chapter of meaningful contribution. The leader’s next phase may include acting as a consultant to the organization or as an encourager to younger leaders. This last chapter can be represent significance and respect instead of uncertainty and suspicion.
The right time
At the age of 65, John Wooden retired as UCLA basketball coach after winning his final NCAA championship. For the next three decades younger coaches revered him. Leaders in a variety of fields often consulted him. In contrast, the prominent 80-year old college football coach who clings to his position often loses some recruits. He frequently has to explain the mediocre performance of his team and field questions about when he will retire.
The most important reason for developing a transitional strategy is for the good of the organization. In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins suggests that one of the characteristics of what he calls “level five” leaders is that they put the welfare of the organization ahead of their own interests. It’s not that they have no ego, but that they sacrifice their ego for the benefit of others.
The Bible instructs us, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil 2:4). When wise, godly leaders put the interests of others ahead of self they become keenly sensitive to the appropriate time to step aside.
Adapted from the book, Transition Plan, by Bob Russell