Senior Leader Succession
One of my favorite sporting events was the 2012 Olympic women’s 4x100 relay in London. The U.S. women crushed a 27-year-old world record. I recently watched a video of that race. Celebrated Olympic sprinter, Allyson Felix, running the second leg, energetically displayed the foundational principles for a good baton pass, and for succession of senior leaders.
As she came into the transition zone, you see her shout something to the next runner in preparation for the baton pass. With the next runner running as if shot from a cannon, Allyson didn’t slow down and passed the baton without a hitch. Finally, as the next runner took off, you can see Allyson shouting words of encouragement to her as she took off around the track.
Watching that historic race gives us insights into three phases of succession:
These phases are a partnership between the current CEO, an incoming leader, the board, and others, depending on the role being filled.
Over the past few years, The Navigators and myself, personally, have been planning for the eventual change, when I would move out of my role as U.S. president. That change occurred during late 2021 and resulted in the selection of my successor, Marvin Campbell.
To illustrate these three phases, I’ll utilize the leader transition that took place between Moses and Joshua, seen in the Old Testament. Healthy transitions do not “just happen” and they don’t even happen naturally in most cases. Even Moses and Joshua remind us of two contrasting transitions in the leadership of Israel. One, from Moses to Joshua, went well, but the next ended with Israel functioning (or dysfunctioning!) as a loosely knit federation of tribes (cf. the Book of Judges).
Preparation of potential succession candidates takes many forms.
Preparation of potential succession candidates takes many forms. And preparation is especially pertinent to developing a bench of internal candidates. When our organizations are blessed to receive people from the outside, we benefit from the preparation others have done. As leaders, it is our privilege and responsibility to prepare internal candidates for senior leader roles in our mission and for the broader Body of Christ.
Though it would not be known for many years who would succeed him, Moses began preparing Joshua early on, after leaving Egypt. He had Joshua accompany him to meet with God when he gave Israel the law and renewal of the covenant (Ex. 24:13, 32:17). And regularly, Moses had Joshua accompany him during his time of meeting with God in the tent of meeting (Ex. 33:7-11).
For those leading a succession process, a critical piece is dependence on God as the one who provides people for our work – both for profit and nonprofit organizations. In Numbers 27:15 we see Moses’ dependence on God to provide the right successor, “Moses said to the LORD, “May the LORD, the God of the spirits of all mankind, appoint a man over this community … one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the LORD’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.”
In the Navigators, over the past 10 years, preparation of senior leader candidates has included leader development cohorts, a focused executive leader development process, and ensuring candidates experience leadership opportunities in multiple contexts within our Navigator work. Over the past six years, more than 60 current and emerging leaders experienced a peer learning based executive leader track of development as well.
Several years ago, I gathered feedback from numerous leaders in the Navigators to put together a slate of potential candidates. The result was five key U.S. and international leaders who represented a wonderful group of potential candidates. Over two years, these leaders participated in gatherings and Zoom calls revolving around the character and competence needed to fulfil the role of Navigator U.S. president. We also included spouses in some gatherings.
Businesses, churches, and other Christian organizations use various means for the selection phase of succession. While we may prepare a several internal people for possible succession, sometimes there are external candidates better suited to meet the needs of the organization in certain seasons. The use of search firms is a common practice. Regardless of the process used to find the next candidate for a senior executive role, we know that it is God who chooses and ultimately selects (Psalm 75:6-7).
In the case of Moses’ succession, we see in that the Lord selected Joshua to follow Moses with these words:
“So the LORD said to Moses, “Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay your hand on him. Have him stand before Eleazar the priest and the entire assembly and commission him in their presence. Give him some of your authority so the whole Israelite community will obey him … At his command he and the entire community of the Israelites will go out, and at his command they will come in … Moses did as the LORD commanded him. He took Joshua and had him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole assembly. Then he laid his hands on him and commissioned him, as the LORD instructed through Moses.” (Num. 27:18-23)
In the U.S. Navigators, once a transition of the president has been announced, a survey is sent to all U.S. staff allowing them to give input to the future direction of the mission. Additionally, they can give input on possible candidates to fill the role. Then, directly before one of our annual board meetings, a selection council of 40 men and women are convened to seek the Lord on the person God has set apart to step into the role. No doubt, The Navigators’ process is a unique one, but has served us well over time.
In the end, the group voted unanimously to put forward Marvin Campbell as the new Navigators U.S. president.
This past August, the selection council convened for four days of prayer, fasting, worship, discussions on job description and requisites, rigorous discussion on the future direction of The Navigators, and potential candidates. In the end, the group voted unanimously to put forward Marvin Campbell as the new Navigators U.S. president. The Board then met, interviewed Marvin, and affirmed the selection.
Finally, the successful onboarding of a new candidate is a crucial part of a healthy transition of leadership. Whether the new executive leader is an internal or external candidate, there is much to be done to help them slide smoothly into their new contribution. The list of important topics and decisions can be long, even in the best of situations. (i.e. acquiring greater clarity on key areas of the job description, receiving briefings on current programs, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, determining requisites for a new assistant, making executive team adjustments, changing the leadership structure, and being set up for the first 90 days).
In Deuteronomy and Joshua we see the onboarding of Moses replacement, Joshua. While we don’t see all the details, we know Moses was still at Joshua’s side when the Lord said, “Be strong and courageous for you will bring the Israelites into the land I promised them on oath, and I myself will be with you.” (Deut. 31:23) Despite Moses’ impending death, Joshua knew the Lord would be with him as he took on the anointing as Israel’s leader.
Before his death, Moses served Joshua and his leaders by finishing the writing of the law (Deut. 31:24), penning a song highlighting God’s faithfulness (Deut. 32), and blessing each of the tribes of the people of Israel (Deut. 33).
Before he left, here was one of Moses’ final exhortations to Joshua,
“Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the LORD swore to their forefathers to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (Deut. 31:7-8)
After Marvin Campbell was selected as Navigators U.S. president, a couple of months were given to onboarding. The board chair, members of the leadership community and myself have spent significant time with Marvin on topics relevant to his success in the job. Personally, I spent full and half days, as well as several hours a week walking through the main job description areas as well executive level best-practices for flourishing.
There is no perfect succession process. Even when these three phases are attended to well, we know from Psalm 127:1 who oversees and ultimately directs our succession processes!
“Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain.”
A Bit about Marvin Campbell, new Navigators U.S. President
Marvin was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland and surrendered his life to Christ during his freshman year of high school, after the deaths of two friends. He met The Navigators his first year at the Naval Academy and after graduating, he married the love of his life, Pamala, at the Naval Academy Chapel.
Marvin served for 20 years of combined active and reserve naval service, retiring with the rank of Commander. He served on volunteer staff for eight years before leaving the military and joining Navigator staff vocationally in 2002. He has served in every context of our Navigator mission, including military, collegiate, community, marketplace, and city ministries. In 2013 Marvin joined our National Leadership Team as a Senior Vice President and U.S. Field Director, giving joint oversight to more than 2700 U.S. field staff. The Campbells have three adult sons, two daughter in-laws, and three grandchildren.
We are excited for the gifts and energy Marvin will bring to our Navigator work and our 2030 God-sized goal to see one million new multiplying disciplemakers raised up for the glory of God and for the sake of our broken and vulnerable world, both here in the U.S. and to the ends of the earth. Learn more at: www.navigators.org/us-director-2021
Dr. Doug Nuenke was selected as The Navigators® U.S. president in 2008. On November 1, 2021 he stepped out of that role after serving for 13 years. He leads with the fervor that comes from a continually growing and abiding relationship with Jesus Christ.