Rhonda was 55 years old and owned her own counseling practice. Retirement was not a thought in her mind at that point in life. Living in one of the most expensive cities in the country, she knew she wouldn’t be able to afford for several more years. But she loved her townhome in the city and the work she did, so she was fine with that. Rhonda looked forward to many more good years with her clients.

However, one day she had a stroke and passed away suddenly. It shocked her adult children, Brian and Sarah, whose mom had always been in good health, rarely even catching a cold, and she had no chronic conditions in which she was medicated for. But one day she was gone, and now they are left to settle her affairs. She had a general will, though it hadn’t been updated in the last decade, which helped Brian and Sarah with some of her possessions.

As they tried to settle all her accounts, they had little indication of what companies housed some of them, and they had no clue how to access them. And then there was Rhonda’s counseling practice. With no plan for what to do with the practice, the three others who were employed there, or where to direct her clients who had a long clinical history with her. Brian and Sarah did not know where to begin and trying to figure out all these details frustrated their grieving process even more. They wish they knew what their mom would have liked to see happen with her business and clients, and now they are left to figure it out.

This story is based on a true scenario, and it’s a good example of why it’s never too early to have a succession plan in mind – for your business and your personal affairs. Often, we think of succession planning for when we retire and plan to leave our company, but sometimes things don’t go accordingly to our own timelines.

What if something were to happen to you unexpectedly like Rhonda?

While Rhonda’s children are grieving the sudden loss of their mother, they are also dealing with the stress of managing assets and information they know little about. When you don’t prepare for the unexpected, the burden is left on those you love and leave behind while they are already burdened by loss. We don’t like to think of the “worst case scenarios,” but the reality is that none of us know which day is out last.

We can love our family and those we work with, and steward well the resources God gave us, by creating a plan for what happens if today were to be our last day.

Let Empathy Guide Your Preparation

Consider how you can model Jesus to those you encounter in your work week.

How did Jesus treat those who needed hope?

Empathy is always the best place to start. Recognizing the unique challenges that are leading others to worry and feel afraid and relating to them helps everyone feel seen and that they aren’t bearing the burden alone.

Extend grace to others when they don’t have the product you need, when someone shows up late and is distracted, or when we know someone can produce better work than what we saw of them that week. Be someone others can confide in and know additional resources you can point them to when you see they need assistance from someone who specializes in a certain area.

If they have worries related to their job, provide as many facts about the situation as possible. Having facts and truth will help them from imagining their own version of it that will spiral their anxiety.

Follow up with them and ask how things are going the week following your conversation. Consider what you can implement within your business to provide additional support and care for those who work with you. It can be as simple as incorporating some time for relational connection amongst your team over coffee and donuts every other week. Or maybe you invest in a Chaplain coming once a week to check in with each person individually. Whatever fits your business and the needs of those you work with.

If you are the owner or CEO of the company, good and thorough succession planning could make or break the future of the business you worked so hard to establish and build. There are a number of reasons why you could leave (retirement, go to another job, or even death), but regardless of the reason, as Christian executive we have a responsibility to steward everything as well as we can and leave the business the best we can. The mark of a good leader is reflected in how well the company runs in your absence.

 If the company is better five years after you leave, praise God for the foundation He empowered you to set and the leadership you showed in raising others up to continue the company mission. But this doesn’t just happen; it requires intentional planning, time, development of the people, a clear and compelling purpose and vision shared by those stepping into your role, and, more importantly, trust and dependence on God. 

There are several examples of succession planning throughout Scripture. The most obvious example of this was Jesus leading the twelve apostles. These apostles were who he was intentionally spending time with, making sure they were prepared to continue his work and ministry after he was gone.

Even before Jesus, we see examples of succession planning, most notably, in the stories of Moses and Joshua, King David and Solomon, and Elijah and Elisha (check out this article for more information on these stories). Faithful, God-fearing leaders put thought, time, effort, and dependence of God’s guidance toward succession planning necessary for setting the next generation of leadership up for success.

Protect the Legacy with Information and Truth

For Christian executives, succession planning keeps everyone on the same page for what to expect in transitions. From the President of the company to a manager of a department, those who manage people and important functions of the business should have a succession plan in place should they retire or move on to something else.

What is the process for someone leaving, finding a replacement, and someone new coming in?

What level of involvement should the leader transitioning out have in helping find a replacement and transition information over to others?

How do we ensure balls aren’t dropped and important functions are covered seamlessly when someone leaves?

There are many questions to ask and things to consider in order to make sure your business is not hurting when someone leaves. Succession planning could start before a leader even thinks about their transition. Developing your employees with skills and knowledge to step into roles with more responsibility should one became vacant is a proactive measure for your business while helping your employees feel valuable.

Could they use those skills and knowledge to go somewhere else?

Sure, but many also leave when they don’t feel like they are growing or don’t feel valued by their company anyway. When you develop employees, the value they feel and the growth they experience is incentive for them to stay with your company longer and continue pouring into it in new ways. When one of your leadership positions becomes vacant, you have a pool of internal candidates who know your company and its vision and values, are passionate about being part of it, and have the characteristics and skill sets you need.

Everybody wins.

Beyond your business, think about what information you might know about your household that could be recorded or shared with someone else in your household.

Make sure your spouse knows the usernames and passwords to the accounts you manage for finances and paying bills, write down the kids’ pediatrician office information on the refrigerator, share your “secret family recipe” with your son, teach your daughter how to fix things around the house when they break, make sure trusted family and friends know how to access your will if needed. Equip those around you with the information they need if something were to happen to you unexpectedly. 

It’s never too early to think through how we will leave things when we leave a job or even this earth. None of us know when our time could be up. Whenever that is for us, will we leave a road map for those in our business and household, or will we leave chaos and questions? As Christian business leaders there is a responsibility to steward all God has given.Having a well thought out plan for succession is one way to steward well what He gives.

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