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No leader leads forever. All leaders leave. It’s our humanity writ large.

We seize another opportunity, age, grow tired, get bored, get fired, take time out to “spend time with the family,” retire, get sick or die. But one way or another, no matter what we are leading, we eventually leave. For the President of the United States, it’s four years or eight years but no more.

So changing leaders is not the problem. It happens. But changing leaders badly can debilitate or destroy an organization. Poor leadership transition can disillusion people within and without, the organization’s personnel and public.

In my estimation this happened at the University of Michigan when men’s football coach Lloyd Carr retired and Rich Rodriquez was named his successor. Rodriquez got off a horrible start and things went downhill from there—his buy-out penalty at West Virginia University wasn’t honored and WVU had to sue to get what was rightfully owed, statements were made on all sides that later proved suspect, and so it went. Add a poor win-loss record and Rodriquez was fired three years later. The entire story is a case study for what not to do in leadership transition.

One way to attempt to avoid (no guarantees) a major hiccup in leadership transition is to plan the transition. Plan leadership succession, not necessarily anointing an heir apparent, but plan the process by which the next leader will be identified.

The responsibility for planned leadership succession resides with current leadership—the Board and the chief officers of the organization. Herein lies a sometimes problem. For a variety of reasons and motives current leaders may not want to plan transition.

Current leaders are sometimes threatened by the prospects of developing a leadership succession plan. They confuse the process with their own security and sense of longevity. Sometimes leaders push planning into the future because they’d rather deal with immediate issues; classic procrastination.

Boards make a terrible mistake when they dilly-dally with leadership succession in the warped view that doing so is a statement of confidence in the current leader. Or, directors are so enamored by the current leader they beg him/her to stay forever. But forever doesn’t happen this side of the afterlife. Consequently, something inevitably happens and suddenly the organization is facing leadership transition with no idea of how to pull it off.

Stockholders in for-profit enterprises and constituents or donors supporting nonprofit organizations have a stake in who’s leading and who will be leading. For them, leadership succession planning is good stewardship that attempts to perpetuate the wellbeing of the organization. Without this planning, the organization can get caught shooting craps with its own future. Shrewd stakeholders who see this sometimes quietly opt out when they think the risk is getting too high.

The old biblical monarchies had a kind of built-in leadership transition process. Whenever Father stepped aside, Son stepped in. It was simple. Contemporary organizations sometimes operate on that principle, but usually they face a more complex task and thus need more planning.

Boards that develop a leadership contingency and succession plan, a kind of “Leader’s Will,” greatly increase the chances of a smooth and successful leadership transition.

Leadership transition works best when leaders know when to leave. An organization’s potential for long-term viability is increased when it is affirmed that no one is irreplaceable. Lame duck leaders or “Emperors who have no clothes” are deadly to an organization’s image, effectiveness, and health. In non-profit or profit settings, Boards must take responsibility. Weak Boards produce weak organizations and nowhere is this more quickly evident than in instances of current leaders being permitted to stay too long.

Formal search processes for new leaders are virtually inevitable and almost always desirable. Organizations do not always enjoy the comfort of an in-house heir apparent, and even if they do, it’s better for both the presumed heir and the organization for him/her to win or earn the new position, not be granted it outright. A search helps validate the choice. Besides, a search may make it evident that a presumptive heir is not so logical or capable after all.

One of the best ways to prepare an organization for leadership transition is to develop potential leaders who can later be considered in the search. “Up and comers” should be targeted for mentoring, role modeling, networking, and special assignment opportunities. Failure to develop young staff can drive away a whole generation of prospective leaders, crippling the organization for years to come. Organizations are strengthened by plans that proactively identify and support leadership talent from all walks of life.

Leadership succession planning becomes logically more important for organizations with long-term and older leaders. It’s just good business. More than that, it instills confidence in all stakeholders that the organization is in good hands today and will be, to the best of our abilities, in good hands tomorrow too.


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at or follow him at


I’ve known several leaders who didn’t know when to leave. They stayed too long, tainted their reputations, and nearly destroyed their organizations because they couldn’t pull the plug.

These leaders were good people, even superb leaders. But they didn’t have the will to leave. Or just as often, well-intentioned supporters begged leaders to stay long past when wisdom suggested otherwise and the leaders allowed themselves to be beguiled by vox populi. Their organizations paid the price.

No leader lives nor lasts forever. Sooner or later, all leaders resign, retire, are fired, or die in office. I know leaders who’ve found ways to delay or avoid the first three options. I don’t know of any who’ve delayed the last option—other than by moving on and dying out of office.

Whatever. Leaders eventually leave. It’s a given. The concern here are leaders who try to lengthen “eventually” indefinitely.

Not to pick on the man, but Dr. Robert H. Schuller of the Crystal Cathedral may be a case in point. I’m not attacking him, but I believe he’s given us plenty of evidence recently to make my point about great leaders knowing when to leave. Dr. Schuller hasn’t left.

The man is 84 years old. I attended a service last fall, my first and only, and saw for myself how as an older man he got confused a couple of times in the pulpit. More to the point, he turned the reins over to his son and then took them back. He’s turned the reins over to his daughter and just this week countermanded her leadership in public, even calling the press to state his open disagreement with something she had done. Whatever right and wrong or good and best might be regarding the specific issues, Dr. Schuller is demonstrating what it looks like when a leader is so tied into his/her organization that he/she cannot leave long past the time when he/she should have done so.

Leaders sometimes get to a point they confuse their own ego with their position, i.e., “I am the President,” or CEO, etc. It, the leadership role, and me are the same in the leader’s mind. This is not good for him or her or the organization.

Leaders who don’t know when to leave can, in a short time, nearly destroy an organization they worked years to build. I’ve seen this happen and out of grace to others involved I won’t name two universities where this indeed took place.

I could name a university where the newly appointed president found 7 former presidents serving on the Board. How’d you like to face that each time you suggested a change? It's a free country, and this university can do this if it wants, but freedom to act doesn't guarantee wise actions.

I can name “big name” pastors who didn’t know when or how to leave, and worse, hadn’t over the years developed a “bench” of new leaders. In other words these pastors failed to do what John Maxwell says is one of the most important things a leader can do: develop the leaders around you, for the sake of the future of the organization.

Leaders who stay “too long” only end up weakening their organizations. No one stays on top forever. No leader, no matter how good his/her track record, is the only person capable of running the organization well. Sure, there are great ones out there who’ve gone away and come back—Steve Jobs of Apple, Howard Schultz of Starbucks—but they are rare.

Great leaders know when to leave—and then they do. It’s a simple as that. President George Washington retired to Mt. Vernon and then studiously resisted multiple overtures attempting to lure him back into politics or to get him to make public statements criticizing his successors. His is a good model.


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at or follow him at


I ordered my usual 12 inch tuna on wheat at a nearby Subway. I’ve ordered this sandwich in maybe ten or fifteen states, scores of them, so I know whereof I speak when it comes to Subway tuna sandwiches.

On one earlier occasion I mentioned to the manager that his bread was dry and, thus, not as good. He said it was because they were still learning how to regulate the ovens. OK, makes sense.

Last Friday I purchased a sandwich at the same restaurant. Same result for maybe the fourth or fifth time. Since I’ve eaten this sandwich so many times from so many restaurants I know it can be better.

So this time I spoke again to the same manager, sharing with him in an even, non-agitated voice that his bread wasn’t up to par. To my surprise, he immediately turned to the middle-aged woman making my sandwich and told her in strong terms that she must put the bread inside a cabinet minutes after it's taken from the oven. In other words, he blamed her for my concern, even though my concern referenced a sandwich purchased the previous week. It was not her fault.

Clearly this manager knows little about good leadership, appreciating his personnel, or being mature or professional enough to assume responsibility. Since this Subway (and by the way, I don’t blame the company for this) is relatively near our home I’ll likely return. But if I continue to get dry bread I’m going to speak up again and see what the manager does this time.

What’s interesting about all this is that the “fix” is so simple, so minimal in cost. It just requires a manager who cares about his or her product, customers, and staff.


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at or follow him at


Tragedy demands a response, especially when it occurs at home. This is the case in the aftermath of gun violence in Tucson last Saturday that took the lives of six and harmed others including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

The persons we look to for response are our leaders, particularly the President of the United States. Tonight, President Barack Obama spoke to 14,000 at a “Together We Thrive: Tucson and America” memorial service in Tucson at the University of Arizona’s Mckale Center. The speech was an opportunity to grieve and console, remember, honor, and express emotions-in-community.

On these occasions, the President acts as national Pastor-in-Chief. In tonight’s address, President Obama’s pulpit skills helped him lead the nation toward healing. He said Scripture tells us there is evil in the world and he quoted the book of Job. He urged Americans to guard against simple explanations for the violence and reminded us that we “cannot turn on each other.” In his speech-turned-sermon, the President said we should show kindness, generosity, and compassion. We should do right by our children. In pastoral cadence he said that what matters is not wealth or status or fame or power but how well we have loved and make the lives of others better.

President Obama called upon the nation to make sure our reflections about the reasons for the tragedy and our debate is worthy of those we lost. He called for civility and honesty in public discourse as we seek to form a more perfect union.

President Obama’s sermon was good but did not plow new ground. Other presidents before him have offered the nation similar leadership in the wake of tragedy.

Following the 1986 Challenger space shuttle disaster, President Ronald Reagan sat in the Oval Office and gave a brief, powerful eulogy that is remembered today for its simplicity and eloquence. He summarized by saying the last time we had seen the astronauts they waved goodbye and then "They slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God."

April 19, 1995, a bomber exploded the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Four days later President Bill Clinton spoke to the city’s citizens and to the nation, saying, “You have lost too much, but you have not lost everything. And you have certainly not lost America, for we will stand with you for as many tomorrows as it takes.”

Three days after 9/11, September 14, 2001, President George W. Bush grabbed a megaphone and gave an impromptu response to workers at Ground Zero that became one of his most memorable and uplifting statements: “I can hear you. I can hear you. The rest of the world can hear you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.”

February 1, 2003, President Bush addressed another space shuttle disaster, this time the Columbia. In a White House speech he said, “The same Creator who names the stars also knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today. The crew of the shuttle Columbia did not return safely to Earth; yet we can pray that all are safely home. May God bless the grieving families, and may God continue to bless America.”

President Obama struck a balanced respectful tone, honored those lost and comforted their families, reminded us we should strive to be better for our children’s sake, and called for unity and strength in the face of loss. All good.

The President is not a pastor. But in times of tragedy he has to play one on TV. Tonight, President Obama used the bully pulpit in a meaningful if not memorable manner.


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at or follow him at


I believe in strong leadership—but always with two corollaries, accountable leadership and strong leadership at all levels.

Accountable Leadership - All leaders should be accountable to someone or to some appropriate group. Even the President of the United States is accountable to the American electorate.

Unaccountable leaders too often fall victim to their own humanity. They can be captured by arrogance, which eventually, almost inevitably, leads to upheaval in their professional and perhaps personal lives.

On the other hand, good, effective leaders don’t mind being accountable to people with the right values. Being comfortable with accountability is a sign of competence and maturity in a leader.

Strong leaders need help. None of us is as smart as all of us. No leader can do it all and will fail if he or she tries. Weak leaders don’t understand this. But it’s always a precursor to trouble when leaders surround themselves with Yes-Men or Women whose loyalty supersedes their conscience, ethics, and compassion, thus their ability to truly help the leader and the organization. Strong leaders need to appoint people around them who are people with character.

Strong leaders who’re confident in their talent and assignment aren’t "threatened." Strong board members or directors, for example, do not bother them. Strong leaders don’t want directors who check their brains and their backbones at the boardroom door. Strong leaders with the right values and perspective want strong leaders around them, including people to whom they report, people who may be hard to please but for the right reasons like excellence, fidelity to the organizational mission, integrity.

Accountability is something God built into the fabric of human life, for he knew that sin would otherwise destroy us. I’ve always admired Charles Colson, whose organization, Prison Fellowship, exists because of him. He was not just appointed as an executive but was the founder of this organization. Yet he wisely created a board and voluntarily submitted himself to this board, allowing the board to establish policy and act as advisor. Such humility (Colson learned his humility the hard way after Watergate) protects both the leader and the organization.

Strong Leadership At All Levels - I also believe organizations are best served when strong leaders exist at all levels of the organization. Why? Because the stronger the links of the chain the stronger the chain. If leaders make things happen it’s logical to conclude that leaders working in a coordinated effort at all levels of the organization can make even more things happen.

Strong leaders at all levels also help balance the organization. Strong leaders at the top and in the leadership team strengthen the organization.

The fact that strong leaders exist on a board and strong leaders exist within the personnel hierarchy of an organization allows the person in the top executive position to be a strong leader. If strong leaders exist on the board, the top executive enjoys the liberty of accountability. If strong leaders exist within the organization, the top executive may exercise strong leadership without overpowering his or her co-workers.

Strong leaders don’t have to be narcissistic autocrats. Such people craft their own downfall.

Strong leaders who know and trust God, who gave them their talent in the first place, can get things done. They’re strong in leadership not for self-aggrandizement but to serve the Lord and others.


Excerpted from “Be One of God’s Unlikely Leaders—Live With Focus, Get Things Done,” my book in development.

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at or follow Dr. Rogers at



The title of this blog may seem utterly obvious, but people still miss it. The recent firing of Dallas Cowboys Coach Wade Phillips and Minnesota Vikings Coach Brad Childress are cases in point.

Both men are, by all accounts, decent people and knowledgeable football professionals. But both let their teams get away from them. It didn’t take a genius or a leadership expert to see this. All one needed to do was watch their last three games before the firings. Problems were obvious: players not engaged, dissension on the sidelines, dissension in the locker rooms, dissension in the press room, players quitting on plays, and a look on both coaches’ faces like they didn’t quite know what hit them. It was sad.

Phillips got in over his head and didn’t lead because he couldn’t lead. Childress was a different story. He brought Bret Favre back and then handed the team to him.

Bret Favre, who’s enjoyed a remarkable 20 year All-Pro career, has repeatedly tainted his own legacy in the past two years: whining about and sniping at Green Bay when that team demonstrated enough leadership to know when it was time to move on, fussing with coaches and players on the New York Jets, allegedly sending salacious text messages to a woman working with the Jets, and tearing up the Vikings team whenever things didn’t go his way. Childress should have sat Favre down, sent him packing, or at a minimum had a “Come to Jesus” meeting with him. Apparently he did none of this. In other words, he didn’t lead.

So owners like the Cowboys’ Jerry Jones and the Vikings’ Zygi Wilf had no choice and opted for the best choice when they needed to take dramatic steps to change the direction of their team—they fired the coach. This gets everyone’s attention, quiets a few who wanted this result, and gives hope to others who want to win. It gives the owners a chance to put a leader into the leadership position, even if on an interim basis.

Leaders who don’t lead always get themselves and their organizations in trouble. And we saw that again in the Phillips and Childress stories. Leadership begins with leaders.


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at or follow Dr. Rogers at