Organizational crises and internal conflicts resulting from leadership related issues, most especially leadership succession are problems already manifesting themselves in several Christian organizations in Nigeria, and more of such conflicts are only waiting to happen, especially as we approach a period when we expect to see an en masse retirement among founders and leaders of Christian organizations.
It may be recalled that the post 1967 Nigerian civil war revival gave birth to an unprecedented growth of Christianity in the country, especially Pentecostalism, and as a direct result of this, the number of Christian organizations in the country has greatly multiplied. In fact, Nigeria is fast becoming home to the largest number of Christian organizations (churches and mission sending agencies) not just in Africa but in the world. With several of these organizations founded within the same time window of the 1970s and 1980s from the offshoots of the Christian revival and the commencement of indigenous missionary activity, we expect to see massive leadership transitions happen within a similar time window or around the same time.
With numerous cases of church conflicts arising from succession related issues, it becomes clear that unless these organizations are properly prepared for this coming phase, then more cases of organizational crisis arising from poor preparation for leadership transition and from lack of succession plans should be expected among Christian organizations in the coming years.
The departure of an executive leader almost always has an effect on the organization. This can be very well understood especially in organizations where the vision and the operations of the organization is a direct expression of the gift, calling, skill or personality of the founder, which is something common to Christian organizations. However, organizations that have not planned for this departure often face additional difficulties and challenges to their sustainability that could be averted if the board had undertaken succession planning prior to the departure.
Succession planning is part of the process of preparing for the future of an organization. When done well, it can reap myriad benefits – often determining whether organizations thrive and grow in today’s complex organizational environment or if they will decline and eventually fade out with the exit of the founder, but studies have shown also that the lack of strategic succession planning adversely affects organizational sustainability and mission fulfilment.
Most Christian Organizations are founded in response to certain needs or driven by a particular mission and the founders and pioneers happen to the natural leaders of these organizations. They can be said to practically “own” the vision and as the organizations grow from small ministries into sizeably large and complex systems, the number of employees, volunteers and stakeholders equally expands through the process.
In some cases the leadership needs of the organization grows beyond the capacity of the founder and a new leader will need to be selected, in other cases, the founder gets to serve his term and is taken out of the scene either voluntarily through retirement, or involuntarily by sickness, disability or death. At this point, leadership succession can become a very fragile process, especially where the organization does not have the right structures in place that have prepared it for or that will guide it through the process.
Studies have shown however that one central characteristic of organizations that do not outlive their founders is the lack of a structure in place for effective leadership succession. When organizations have existed for many years and there are no systems and structures in place that makes the system conducive for and supports a successful leadership transition, the longevity of such an organization is threatened.