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12 Jun '14

Envisioning the future while not disempowering the past

Posted by T.J. Addington in vision
Every new senior leader faces the twin challenge of moving the organization they lead forward and at the same time doing so in a way that does not detract from what leaders have done in the past. All too often we envision the future but do so by directly or indirectly dissing the past. It is not necessary nor is it helpful.

Take a new pastor coming into a church that needs renovation. Because they are new their focus is on the future and they have no ownership of the past. What we often forget, however, is that our constituency is often far more focused on what was and what is than on what will be. I know of pastors who have publicly criticized the past practices of the church they take, the state of the campus facilities, the architecture and other things that in their eyes were broken.

They may be right in their analysis but they do not help move the congregation forward by marginalizing the past or those who made the church what it is today, imperfect as it may be. Remember that if change is needed it will take these very people to go with you. Thus I would offer several suggestions for envisioning the future while not disempowering the past.

First, honor the past: It got you to where you are. Find the positive things to honor and do it publicly.

Second, honor the faithful folks who are responsible for where the ministry is today. They may or may not represent the future but they have been faithful.

Third, position change not as a criticism of the past but as a necessary step to stay engaged with a changing world. Rather than positioning the past as "bad" position the future as "different" as we respond to a changing world environment.

Fourth, always be gracious. We would desire the next leader to be gracious with us after we leave. We need to set the stage by being gracious to those who have led in the past. There is rarely an excuse for a lack of graciousness.

Fifth, be very careful in how you communicate a need to change. Think about how your constituency will interpret your words from their point of view and experience. When in doubt, find a colleague who can give you feedback. How we message is as important as the message itself.

Sixth, don't move faster than your constituency can follow. Moving too fast sends a message that we do not value the past. Words are not the only things that matter. Our actions and attitudes send messages as well.