Recently I posted “The Tension Between Staying in a Learning Position and Jumping into the Lead Position“. The point was there is a fine line between when a person is ready to be in a senior leadership role and needs to remain in a learning position. The post was to help discern that proper time to make the transition.
I know some 20-something year old youth pastors who will some day be senior pastors, for example. When’s the right time to make the jump and when should they stay in their current position? I know some entry-level managers in large organizations who could move to a higher position in a smaller organization. When should they jump? That was the idea behind the post.
It stirred quite a discussion offline.
One repeated question:
How does one manage the tension well while in a learning position until the transition to a leading position takes place?
I would first say make sure there is a tension. These suggestions are intended for those who sense they are being called to a senior leadership position — someday — but haven’t made the jump for whatever reason. They are living in the “tension”. The advice is hopefully good at any stage of life, but that’s my intent of this post.
But, also know that you’re asking the right question. Never waste a wait. God is doing something where you are — He’s working behind the scenes in ways you cannot see. So, you do your part. It’s good if you’re in that waiting position that you’re asking these type questions.
Now here are 5 suggestions:
Recruit a mentor.
Everyone needs a mentor — at every stage of life — but especially if you want to move upward in positional authority. Find someone who is in a position of responsibility at the next level you hope to eventually be and ask them to meet with you on a semi-regular basis. Don’t expect it to be often. They’re likely busy people. I’ve had mentors I met with only every few months. Others were more frequent.
Consider also, that the mentor doesn’t always have to be in the same field that you are in, just with similar level of responsibility as the next level on your radar. The same would be ideal, but not always available.
When you arrive at the meeting, don’t waste their time. Do the hard work of preparing for the meeting. Have questions prepared in advance. And, make sure you take notes. It’s helpful for review later and demonstrates how serious you are taking the advice.
Set a tentative timeline in your mind for transition.
How long do you realistically think you should attempt to be at the next level of leadership? Ask yourself probing questions, such as, “If I knew I was going to be here 3 more years — without any changes in my level of responsibility — am I going to get frustrated?” A realistic timeline is probably not 2 months, but a year certainly could be. And, so could five years be. Much of that depends on your current heart for what you’re doing now, how much you’re thinking about where you need to be next, and how much tension there is between those two. Soul search.
Set a realistic timeline in your mind, but then don’t bind yourself to this — that’s dangerous. Life happens and ultimately God is in control, but this gives you a sense of hope and perspective. If you think you’re three years out from a transition, then you know you have three years to grow where you’re at currently. It’s not the time to be looking actively. It’s the time to excel in what you’re doing. If you know in a year you’re going to be bored to death, then you know how fast you have to respond to seek another position.
Discerning this timeline is a good talk through with a mentor or other people who know you well and believe in you.
Prepare for what’s next.
You should always be doing this. Even if you never moved to a position with more authority you should prepare for what’s next. The needs within our jobs are always changing because the people and cultures we encounter are always changing.
Learn all you can. Take notes as you observe other leaders. Read books. Attend conferences. Build your network. Don’t waste the wait.
Stay very loyal and faithful to the job you have now.
Please don’t accept any of my other suggestions without doing this one. This one should perhaps been my first suggestion. It’s that important.
Do your best work every single day in the job you are currently doing. Respect the leadership where you are now. Learn what you can from them too — even what you would do differently some day. This is what you’d hope for from people you will one day lead.
Staying loyal is only fair to the opportunity you’ve been given, but it also protects your resume. Never ruin a relationship where you are — it will only come back to hurt you later. Plus, staying faithful as you wait says a lot about your character.
Keep your eyes and ears open.
In my experience, if you’re asking these type questions, it’s only a matter of time before you’ll be looking to make the transition to a lead position. It could be years, so don’t live in the future when the present needs your attention, but opportunities are often closer than you think.
In my most recent transition, Cheryl and I had known for 2 years that God was doing something new in our life. We didn’t know what or where. We also entertained several opportunities. We listened and had conversations. We didn’t jump until it was clearer. But, when the opportunity was presented that lined with our hearts it was much easier to discern the move. (I should say it was nothing like we thought it would look, but we knew God was in it.) Had we not been watching and listening, we might have missed a God-sized open door.
Any other questions? Thanks for the dialogue.