We recently had one of our long-time, faithful leaders step out to pursue other opportunities that God had placed in their life. As a team we struggled with the tension between being thankful that they were following God’s will for their lives and the sorrow that we felt at their departure. How do you lead a team through the process of losing a leader? I’m sure that I botched it completely at several points over the past few months but there are some things that I learned along the way.
#1 Always honor the outgoing leader
This looks different for every leader. Some people like attention and don’t mind being called up front as you attempt to thank them for everything that they’ve done and meant to students. Some leaders hate the spotlight and a quiet thank you in private is what they need to hear as you express your gratefulness. It’s often tempting to honor leaders in a way that you would be honored. If you’re an upfront type person that likes the spotlight, don’t assume that everyone likes that. It could do more harm than good to honor someone in a way that you would be honored without asking yourself how they will receive it. Hopefully you know your leaders well enough to know which kind of leader they are and how they would feel appreciated. However they receive honor, find a way to convey your gratitude to them in a way that they will enjoy and appreciate it. This will also show your existing team that you’ll care enough about who they are to honor them appropriately when their time to exit comes.
#2 Publicly support the outgoing leaders decision to leave
Whether you agree with the decision or not, it’s your job as the point person to support their decision to step out. It doesn’t matter if you think they are making a terrible decision or if you think they are making the right decision. It doesn’t matter how much extra work their leaving will create for you or if their leaving means that you have less work. No matter what your personal feelings on their leaving, it is your job to publicly support them. Trust that God has spoken to them and has a plan for your life. It’s entirely possible and even probable that God has plans for their live that He chooses not to share with you. Not an easy pill for an egotist like me to swallow but sometimes God does things without consulting me. Whether I agree with the decision or not, I have to publicly support it. If for no other reason, it shows your remaining leaders that they will be honored and trusted when they choose to step out. If you choose to bash the exiting leaders decision, you should be prepared for a mass exodus of other leaders who have no desire to serve with someone who won’t protect and look after their well-being.
#3 Look for ways to stretch existing or new leaders to fill the hole that your departing leader left
Whenever a leader leaves, they leave a hole of things that they brought to the ministry. Instead of grieving that hole and loss, find a way to stretch other leaders to help fill that hole. Maybe you already have a leader on your team that would be really good at something but the old leader was already doing it and there wasn’t room for them to utilize their gifts. This might be the perfect opportunity to stretch your existing leaders and allow them a chance to use the gifts that God has given them. It might also be a good time to recruit new leaders who have gifts and talents that are now needed. Resist the urge to find a carbon copy of your exiting leaders, especially the good ones. Find a way to stretch other leaders without expecting them to do everything the same way the exiting leader did it. Let people be creative and true to who they are when you ask them to do something new.
Losing a leader is never easy but it provides an opportunity to care for them as well as the rest of your team that is staying.
Buz is a special education teacher who passionately loves his ladies (wife and 2 daughters). They live in Spokane, Washington and you can check out his blog right here.