The transition King Saul experienced is a case study in politics, complexity, and loss of control. King Saul handled it badly. How can you avoid the pitfalls of King Saul as you move up the ladder, on to your new position, our out to a new career or retirement? Deal with politics, planning, and the personal, soul-side of transition are required.
Politics: Power and Ego. In his book, The 48 Laws Power, Robert Greene and Joost Elffers suggest that the first law of power is “never outshine the master.” In full, the law reads,
Always make those above you feel comfortably superior. In your desire to please and impress them, do not go too far in displaying your talents or you might accomplish the opposite – inspire fear and insecurity. Make your masters appear more brilliant than they are and you will attain the heights of power.
To put the law another way, the Duke must never outshine the King if the Duke wants to keep his head. This observation of power was played out in the political battles between Saul and David. Perhaps David rose too quickly and allowed his star to shine to brightly. Yet, the other side of the equation is Saul’s fear and insecurity resulting in his determination to put David to death. Arrogant insecurity in high places of power and influence can bring down havoc.
The harsh dynamics of politics are played out in organizations in diverse ways depending on the political culture of the organization. There are organizational cultures that tend to hide the political jockeying and gamesmanship beneath smiles and polite banter. Other organizations are openly and viciously political. Recognition, ego, reputation, influence, and resources are the chips of political competitions. Political maneuvering is at a peak when there is the potential for a major personnel change in the air. People will trade on promises, secrets, gossip, rumors, and lies. The one moving up the ladder where the politics are more blatant will be surprised, even shocked by how things get done. Moving on requires learning a new set of political rules and developing a new network of allies. Moving out may be the most difficult; letting go of political influence, networks, and clout can shatter personal identity. In transition, everyone must deal with political reality and the inner, deeper challenge of personal transition.
Planning: Upside and Downside. Due to the increased number of leadership changes and the complexity of these changes, organizations are moving toward succession planning. The process of planning depends on the organization. Due to the Sabanes-Oxley Act of 2002, most corporations have a plan (few would admit they don’t). Family corporations and businesses are often fraught with personal difficulties as they shift from one generation to the next. Many non-profits and ministries have boards to guide the transition. However, sorting out who has the influence on the board to guide the process can be difficult. Churches have a variety of methods for making changes depending on the denomination or independent by-laws.
Stephen Miles of Forbes Magazine writes for larger corporations, but his wisdom applies to all organizations planning succession. His advice is to plan in advance and keep the plan before the board. Engage the stakeholders in creating the plan. Look carefully at internal candidates. Assess candidates under stress, not just when succeeding. Finally, have a plan to support the incoming leader.
The challenge with planning succession is found in the unanticipated consequences. When a potential change in leadership is whispered, the rumor mill begins, and you can create a horse race between internal candidates, a roller derby at lower levels of management, and bookies on the sidelines taking bets. The mission of the organization is bruised or lost in the melee. When a new person is finally brought on, the board often feels the job is done and leaves the new leader in a sink or swim dilemma. In summary, one cannot move through a major personnel transition without some fall out due, in part, to the planning process. This, however, is not an excuse to avoid planning. Indeed, good planning can mitigate negative outcomes. In most cases, a plan, even a poor one, is better than no plan at all.
Personal Issues: Stress and Change. Deeper than the political shenanigans, more significant than the corporate succession plan, is the soulful challenge of working through personal transition. Indeed, the corporate plan works about as well as those going through the transition are willing to engage in the personal and psychological work of dealing with transition. The rancorous politics can be stunted by mature responses from those dealing with the transition personally. Wise boards and bosses give people time to work through the stress and change that is the heart of the psychology of transition. (continued in Part 3)
Copyright © Richard Leslie Parrott, Ph.D.
The book is available from Amazon at: http://www.amazon.com/Leadership-Lessons-Avoiding-Pitfalls-King/dp/1401677282
 Miles, S. (2009) Succession Planning: How to do it right. www.forbes.com/2009.