Succession Planning: “Wise People Know When to Quit”

By John Pearson

Note: This is the seventh of 11 blogs featuring practical wisdom from the new ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 4: Succession Planning. Free to ECFA members, you can download the resource and video by clicking here.

Principle No. 7: Trust God and Discern Direction! Wisdom on Ending Well

Here’s a gut-check: “Does our board regularly practice spiritual discernment for fork-in-the-road decisions, or are our prayer practices more superficial than transformational?”

When your CEO retires, resigns (or if necessary, is terminated)…does your board have a culture and adequate competencies for spiritually discerning God’s voice? A time of crisis is a very bad time to play catch-up on how to hear from God.

Don’t wait until the eleventh hour of a succession planning crisis to get on your knees. Practice spiritual discernment early and often! But note this caution from Ruth Haley Barton in Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry:

“It is also important to involve the right people. One very common leadership mistake is to think that we can take a group of undiscerning individuals and expect them to show up in a leadership setting and all of a sudden become discerning!”

A board with spiritual discernment radar will also have wise counsel for their CEO regarding exit plans. In his book, Necessary Endings: The Employees, Businesses, and Relationships That All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Move Forward, Dr. Henry Cloud quotes Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: “Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending.” Cloud, a leadership coach and clinical psychologist, also adds, “Wise people know when to quit.”

When boards help their CEOs end well at the right time and in God-honoring ways, they build a healthy foundation for God’s next leader.

The Facilitator Guide includes a resource from Ruth Haley Barton with ten guidelines for “entering into and maintaining a listening posture.” It’s a powerful list!

Check it out here:

DOWNLOAD: ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 4: Succession Planning – 11 Principles for Successful Successions: “Every CEO is an Interim CEO.” The toolbox includes
Read-and-Engage Viewing Guide (20 pages) – photocopy for board members
Facilitator Guide (10 pages)
• 4 short videos (4-5 minutes each)
• Additional resources and succession planning tools

BOARD DISCUSSION: Does our board regularly practice spiritual discernment for fork-in-the-road decisions, or are our prayer practices more superficial than transformational?


This article was originally posted on the “Governance of Christ-Centered Organizations” blog, hosted by ECFA.
John Pearson, a board governance consultant and author, was ECFA’s governance blogger from 2011 to 2020.
© 2021, ECFA and John Pearson. All rights reserved.

This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.