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I’ve experienced lots of leadership transition both personally and alongside leaders around me. I’ll never forget the time my former supervisor, a well-established ministry director in a large organization, agonized about being transferred from one department to another. Like other leaders before her, she was excited for the new adventure ahead and couldn’t help but wrestle with leaving things unfinished. I’m grateful she shared these candid words with me on her last day: “It’s hard for me to move on; I’m not done building what we dreamed up.” What she didn’t realize in that moment is that God had some great benefits in store for her, as long as she could let her vision go.
If you haven’t read 2 Samuel 7 in a while (or ever!), you might want to check it out. I revisited this passage recently and loved taking a closer look at what happened through a leadership lens. Essentially, the prophet Nathan told King David to go ahead with his plans to build the Lord a magnificent temple. That night God revealed an alternate plan to Nathan that completely turned the tables on David’s grand vision. In the end, the human king submitted to the eternal King’s plan for the sake of a much greater good. It probably wasn’t as easy for David to let his vision go as it appears on the pages of Scripture, but it was definitely the right thing to do for a lot of beneficial reasons.
These two situations, my boss’s leadership transition and David’s vision redirection by the Lord, got me thinking. What good comes from a leader letting go of his/her picture of a preferred future? If you want to keep your eyesight at 20/20, letting your vision go is terrible advice. But if you want to be a healthy leader, there are actually five benefits.
Benefit #1: You get out of God’s way.
Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” In both cases, my boss and King David had lots of ideas for what could and should happen. They had history leaning into God’s heart and stepping out courageously for His sake. David, in particular, was merely trying to honor God in the best way he knew how. Still, there came a time when the Lord let them know it was time to shift gears, change direction, and let go of a past or current vision so He could do something greater.
You don’t have to lead long to find yourself at a crossroad where the choice is to hold on to your current dream or allow God to release you from the path He put you on previously.
How is God inviting you to let go of a vision that He placed in your heart at some point in the past, so He can move His plan forward freely?
Benefit #2: You appreciate unexpected fruit.
Anyone that ends up in a parenting role learns quickly that his/her character will be put to the test daily. Yes, child-rearing is about helping sons and daughters mature into adulthood. However, a lot more takes place in the hearts of parents that would never happen otherwise. The vision that dads and moms hold onto when their child is born pales in comparison to the transformation they experience in this role.
William Bridges, in his book The Way of Transition, says: “Whatever it is that you intended to achieve by whatever you do isn’t likely to be the thing you accomplish by doing it.” Like what parents experience, my boss and King David discovered over time that much of what they believed their vision was accomplishing actually resulted in unexpected fruit. Had they clung to their mission and role too tightly for too long, they would have missed seeing the primary and side-effects of their leadership as it blossomed over time. When you resist letting your vision go, you’ll find yourself missing out on the same experience as a leader, if you haven’t already.
What is keeping you from seeing unexpected results of your vision and leadership that you didn’t anticipate when you started out in the first place?
Benefit #3: You make space for new frontiers.
It must have baffled King David to hear that God wasn’t interested in him building a temple. He had the passion, resources, and energy to make it happen. Yet, the Lord wanted to carry on his Kingdom in a different way. Before replying in prayer, David probably wondered, “How can this be better?” It’s quite similar to what Jesus’ disciples were likely thinking in John 16:7. Christ’s words about needing to leave so He could send the Holy Spirit probably sounded ridiculous to His closest followers. “Why not stay and finish what you started, Jesus?” was on their mind, if not on the tip of their tongue. Had the Lord not abruptly redirected their current course of thinking and action, they would never have encountered fresh leadership horizons.
Henry Cloud’s Necessary Endings is a must-read for any leader. His warning to everyone in leadership circles is this: “Without the ability to end things, people stay stuck, never becoming who they are meant to be, never accomplishing all that their talents and abilities should afford them.” In other words, my boss needed to go through a leadership transition before she had finished what she started ‒ for her benefit as well as all of us on her team. Rather than move on when she plateaued or burned out, the Lord ensured that she still had enough leadership gas in the tank to move herself and others into uncharted territory.
Would you prefer to stay in your current sphere of influence or is God nudging you to move beyond what’s familiar and why?
Benefit #4: You open doors for others to lead the way forward.
If you haven’t heard, “succession planning” is happening all over the leadership world. There is an influx of emerging leaders, but the ones that have been in charge for decades are still in place. To be totally honest, it’s hard for them to let go of their longstanding visions and reins. The reality of retirement and passing the leadership baton to the next generation is quickly setting in (even if it actually happening is taking much longer!).
King David knew he wouldn’t live forever, though he wasn’t ready to surrender to the idea of his son Solomon shouldering so much. The Lord cleared that misnomer up real fast through Nathan. In your leadership context, are you noticing that some are having a hard time letting go of their vision? If this is true for you, it’s probably time to get some outside perspective so that you can open doors for others to start leading the charge.
Whether you’re in a short-term assignment, nearing retirement, or somewhere in between, what is your succession plan for your current role so someone else can carry the torch next?
Benefit #5: You honor the past by choosing to move on.
There’s a quote I refer to all the time, probably often enough that people get sick of me saying it: “The road to the future runs through the past.” When I first stumbled upon this profound wisdom by professor Robert E. Webber, it actually spurred me on instead of stopping me in my tracks. It reminded me that honoring the past by holding onto the good and releasing the bad is just a natural part of life. When it comes to a leader’s vision, it doesn’t need to be all positive or negative to expire. Vision is more like a seed that eventually falls from a tree to the ground ‒ it’s full of potential and gives birth to new life, even though the beauty of what was no longer exists.
My boss and King David needed to celebrate and experience closure when it came to their leadership vision. Moving on turned out to be a great way to mark the moment, to honor what was in favor of what could and would come next. You probably have areas of your life and leadership that need to be recognized and grieved so that you can step forward freely, not burdened by unfinished chapters in your past.
How could deciding to let go of your vision draw positive attention to what’s behind you so that you can thrive in this next season?
If you decide to take seriously the five benefits of letting your vision go, it could change the way you lead starting today. Resist reading another blog or taking off to your next meeting. I challenge you to dive deeper into where God’s at work in you as a leader by journaling through the five benefits and reflections questions above.