Lessons for succession planning from Bill Hybels

On Friday I was privileged to attend a leadership session with Bill Hybels in Pretoria. Bill Hybels is the lead Pastor for Willow Creek church in Chicago. He also runs the Global leadership summit annually in more than 90 countries around the world. It was a question and answer session on leadership challenges.

One of the questions asked was on succession planning. This is of great interest to me due to the work we do at the Refirement Network. It is becoming a challenging issue for any company or church who needs to succession plan as the Boomer leader heads for “retirement age”.

Here is the framework described by Bill. This discussion should start when the Boomer leader is Mid 50+. There are three main sections to the framework. The WHO, WHEN and HOW.


An organisation or church needs blind clarity on who will make the decision. Will it be the Board or the Leader? It needs to be very clear so that the process can run smoothly. In the case of his church the decision will be made by the board.


The timing of this event can be very emotional for the leader and needs to be handled with empathy. Take time to discuss the timing with the leader. If the leader needs time to become comfortable with the process and it is possible to allow time for adjustment, take that into consideration. Be sensitive.


The framework starts with the internal process of looking for a successor. If one is not available, go outside of the organisation to find the right person. Once the right person has been found, there needs to be a time of transition before handing over the baton to the new leader.

Help the person who is leaving to move through their own transition to what they will be doing next as part of the process and this makes it more comfortable for everyone.

No matter what position you hold, understanding what is next is key. This may take time and effort and work with a retirement transition coach will be beneficial. Ensure you do this for your key employees. It is vital for the sustainability of the organisation and your belief in your people.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *