Leadership

Absorb everything you can while waiting for your leadership position.
Absorb everything you can while waiting for your leadership position. (Flickr )

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 the proper time to make the transition.

I know some 20-something-year-old youth pastors who will someday be senior pastors, for example. When's the right time to make the jump, and when should they stay in their current positions? 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 online.

One repeated question:

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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 this was my specific intent of the original post and this one.

But, also know that you're asking the right question. You should never waste a wait. God is doing something where you are right now. He's working behind the scenes in ways you cannot see. So, you do your part. It's good if you're in a waiting position to be asking these types of questions.

Now, here are five suggestions:

1. 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 reach and ask them to meet with you on a semi-regular basis. Don't expect it to be often. They're probably busy people. I've had mentors I met with only every few months. Others were more frequent.

Consider also, the mentor doesn't always have to be in the same field you are in, just with a similar level of responsibility as the next level on your radar. The same field is ideal but not always available.

When you arrive at the meeting, don't waste your mentor's 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.

2. 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 three more years—without any changes in my level of responsibility—am I going to get frustrated?" A realistic timeline is probably not two months, but a year certainly could be. And so could five years. 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. No one can answer this but you. You'll have to soul search.

Set a realistic timeline in your mind, but then don't bind yourself to it either—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 are right now. 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.

3. Prepare for what's next. You should always be doing this. Even if you never move 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.

4. 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 your current job. Respect the leadership where you are now. Learn what you can from them too—even what you would do differently some day. Finish well. This is what you'd hope for from people you will one day lead. And, it is the right thing to do.

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.

5. Keep your eyes and ears open. In my experience, if you're asking these types of 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 two years 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 aligned with our hearts, it was much easier to discern the move. (I should say it looked nothing like we thought it would, but we knew God was in it.) Had we not been watching and listening, we might have missed a God-sized open door.

Ron Edmondson is the senior pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. For the original article, visit ronedmondson.com.

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