“If I die tomorrow, I want the only thing for people to say is, ‘Gosh, I really miss Ronne’s smile—and her cupcakes.’” I’ve shared that sentiment in meetings with leaders and with my own employees. And I mean it. While I have no desire (or plan) to die tomorrow, I know full well that things change and the position I have now is likely not the position I’ll have forever. And not only do I want to continue to grow and experience fully all the things the Lord has designed for me, I want my staff to experience His glorious plan too. I believe as leaders we are called to do that—to exhort and encourage and provide whatever wisdom we can to those who are entrusted to that leadership—no matter how short or long that season is. I can still remember the day I walked into my boss’ office years ago and told him I had been recruited to be part of a brand new division at a major corporation. Rather than cheering for me, he promptly escorted me to a conference room, where he invited my peers to tell me how stupid I was for leaving their company. I made a pledge that day to never treat those I work with the way I had been treated.
Some of my methods may be a little unconventional, and I’ve had more than one old-school manager give me horrified looks when I say I help my employees with their exit strategy and invite them into mine. But I don’t believe that talking about your next chapter means you’ve stopped living in this one—in fact, I’ve found just the opposite to be true. When employees are allowed to dream about what the future might hold, they work harder in the present so they are truly ready to step into that future when it arrives. And when employees feel safe to dream around their leaders, their dedication and loyalty increases.
So, how do you do it? How do you plan now for a departure that might be months or years down the road? Here are a few things I’ve found to be extremely valuable.
Invite employees into your processes. As a leader, don’t simply tell employees what to do, but allow them to be part of the decision-making process of your ministry or organization. As much as I can, I include employees in on financial decisions, ask them their opinion on what to do in times of conflict or crisis, and ask them to dream big about where we as a team and where our ministry should be going.
Make it easy for employees to share their long-term goals. Create a safe, trusting, and fully confidential environment where dreams can be shared—and then support those dreams even if they don’t include your ministry or organization. Don’t be afraid of losing great people; rather, be the one that encourages your great people to become leaders of great people.
Assist employees in developing both technical and relational skills so they will have a stronger opportunity for promotion and growth. I love to have my employees lead projects, represent our team or our ministry at large events, or take the lead on teaching others new ways of doing things.
Develop personal bench strength. Be sure someone knows enough about the specific tasks you do that those tasks may be delegated in that interim period between your departure and someone else’s arrival. Give your employees an opportunity to shine.
Don’t outstay your welcome or force your employees to outstay theirs. As someone wise once told me, “Jesus loves your staff more than you do.” Be willing to say “yes” to the next thing God has for you, and be wiling to cheer for that employee who wants to say “yes” too.