The Shift You Make One Second After You Decide To Leave

The Shift You Make One Second After You Decide To Leave
Thomas Thompson
April 12, 2022
min read

So you have decided to leave.

Maybe you found a better role.  Maybe you are retiring.  Maybe you can read the signs…and want to leave on your own terms.

In any case, you have decided to leave.

One second AFTER this decision, you need to make a shift.  A shift in how you approach this job.  A shift away from how you have led with every fiber of your being.  A shift that will save you and the team so much grief and challenge.

What is that shift?

You are no longer the leader.  You now work for the NEXT leader.

And all of your priorities, vision, future plans, and goals have to realign with this shift.

A few years ago I worked with an organization where the CEO decided to leave.  He met with his Board and they landed on a 2 month transition window–wrap everything up in 8 weeks.

The problem was, this CEO was having difficulty letting go of the reins.  He wanted control over the interim team, wanted to set up some events for the fall, and expressed disapproval at some of the Board decisions.

What this CEO had to come to understand was this:  They were no longer the leader; they were working for the next leader.  

Their decision not to be there for the future meant they had given up their right to lead into that future.

Instead, they became the Interim Leader. They were second in command to the NEXT leader (which in this case, would be the Board-appointed transition team).

When I resigned my position as a Senior Pastor after ten years of leadership, my Board asked if I would stay on for a year to help transition to the next pastor.  And they had taken my recommendation (not my directive) to appoint my Executive Pastor as the next Pastor.

But that meant there was a few months where I was still the Senior Pastor in name, and my Executive Pastor was still in his role, but we knew our time in those seats was short.

So, even though I was the leader, I had to shift to realize I worked for the next leader–in this case, the guy in the office next door to mine.

I was the Interim Pastor.  That meant a shift in my decision making and exercise of authority. There were decisions I would have made that now were not mine--they were the NEXT leader's.

So I began to run all MY decisions by HIM...because he would be the one to live with the consequences.  

“How do YOU want me to handle this decision?”

“What direction would YOU like me to lead the team for our fall preaching series?”

“I am headed into an Elder meeting about this issue–what do YOU want from them?”

My goal in finishing well had to shift: Finishing well meant setting up the next leader for success.

And here is the bitter pill to swallow:  I didn’t fully get to decide what that looked like.  I had to yield and submit my opinions, plans, decisions to others in ways that were counter to how I had led for the last decade.

And it was hardest when they gave me priorities I disagreed with, or rejected my recommendations.  

I first faced this years ago when I was leaving a large multi-site church.  As I left, I took a long look at our multi-site model.  I wrote a brilliant critique of some of our practices, as well as amazing recommendations on what I thought the church should to next.

And they didn’t do a single thing I suggested.

And they were exactly right to do so.  Because by deciding to leave, I had given up the right to dictate, or even just help direct, the future.  I would not be there to lead that future, so I was not here to lead that future.

This shift will get push back from strong-willed leaders, or especially from founders (there is a reason why the first leader to replace a founder often struggles to last a year).

Because we have gotten used to getting our way.  But we give that up the moment we leave.

Take a cue from John the Baptist.  A man who was leading a ministry of preparing people for the coming of a Messiah who would rescue his followers.  He led with passion and strength, directing people on how to prepare the way.

And then the Messiah showed up.  And everything shifted for John.

In the first challenge to his leadership, Jesus shows up to be baptized, and John balks.  He should not baptize the messiah; the Messiah should baptize him.  But John is no longer the leader.  So he has to yield his opinion and leadership to the NEXT leader…and he baptizes Jesus in the Jordan River.

Some followers come to John, upset that his leadership is fading and this new leader is stepping in.  But John gives a leadership mantra that should shape the priorities of every leader who knows her time in the seat is coming to an end:

“He must increase; I must decrease.” John 3:30


I am not saying you abdicate responsibility.  I am saying that you make that shift, one second after you decide to leave, that going forward, this seat is no longer yours.  That you are preparing the way for the next leader.  And that means you submit your decisions, priorities, and future plans to those who will have to carry on without you.

Shift to this mantra: "I am the Interim."

That shift is hard.  But make it as your last act of service to the organization you have served so well.

Thomas helps leaders navigate what’s next.  If he can serve you in this, reach out to him HERE.

Photo by DICSON on Unsplash

I founded Thompson Leadership to come alongside leaders like you. Together, we will unpack your unique leadership, unearth your biggest challenge, and create an action plan to close the gap between where you are and where you want to be.
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