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Transitioning from Charismatic Founder to the Next Generation

 

Background

Bill presented the closing Plenary talk at the 2010 Academy of Religious Leadership (ARL) annual meeting, “Transitioning from Charismatic Founder to the Next Generation.” (Abstract and excerpt below) The full text was published in the Journal of Religious Leadership (Vol 9 No 2 Fall 2010), and is now available as a pdf download here ». He was President of ARL from 2013-14 - ARL website ». He serves as Co-Editor of JRL.

Abstract

Perhaps the most significant transition in a religious community is the transition from charismatic founder to the next generation. This article tells the stories of three charismatic religious leaders and the organizational shifts that took place as these leaders retired.

Among other requirements for this transition, it discusses the changing role of information and communication, the greater need to process feelings systemically, and the renegotiation of values, expectations, roles, and responsibilities. It offers an analogy to illustrate how the transition affects the relationships among the members, and not just with the founder/leader.

Finally, it discusses the differing rates of transition within the community and charts what distinguishes the founder generation from the next generation along a number of dimensions.

Excerpt

My thesis is fairly simple: The transition from charismatic founder to the next generation usually requires not merely a shift in who is the leader, but an organizational shift. That is, to survive, to establish itself as a continuing organization, and, one hopes, to thrive, a church, a denomination, or a ministerial center requires focusing on the way the community does its work, internally and externally. When we focus on the community, we see that the generational shift demands more than plugging in a new leader. Furthermore, I would argue that this shift and its consequences are not always foreseen or welcomed by either the charismatic
founder or the followers of the charismatic founder.

In addition, I will contend that it will often be useful to employ the assistance of an external consultant to assist the community with its transition. And, whether or not such assistance is used, I will articulate some common patterns that arise during the transition period and suggest ways of understanding and facilitating the
changes that will help to ensure the vision and goals of the founder are carried into the next generation even as the structure and style of the organization or community is transformed. The founder’s vision and goals are part of the reason people partnered with the founder or joined the budding community or organization. Thus they need to extend into the next generation in some form.

... Full text was published in the Journal of Religious Leadership (Vol 9 No 2 Fall 2010), and is now available as a pdf download here ».