the shape of leadership

Cultivating the Skills to Navigate Transition

Four traits to help you in any season of change

Each one of us goes through seasons of transition, and those periods come in different shapes and sizes. It might be graduation from school, a ministry change, a move to a new city, or even passage into a new season of life.

One thing is for sure: Transitions are emotional. Dr. Sam Chand said, “Transition is the emotional, relational, financial, and psychological processing of change. Transitions are internal.” That internal wrestling match is where doubt and uncertainty are the strongest.

So, regardless of how it is initiated, how do we navigate transitions successfully? It starts with some transitional skills. While this isn’t an exhaustive list, let me share four skills to help you in any season of transition.


Forward Focus

There is always an exchange that occurs during transition seasons where you trade what you’re currently doing for what you’re going to do. A great example of this is Elijah and Elisha.

One day, as Elijah stood on a mountain, God told him to go and anoint a man named Elisha. “So Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat. He was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he himself was driving the twelfth pair. Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him” (1 Kings 19:19).

That might sound strange, but what happened next gives us a powerful insight into pivotal moments of transition. “Elisha then left his oxen and ran after Elijah. ‘Let me kiss my father and mother goodbye,’ he said, ‘and then I will come with you’” (1 Kings 19:20).

Elijah wasn’t going to plead and beg for Elisha to follow him. Elijah did what God told him to do; now it was up to Elisha. This is how Elisha responds: “So Elisha left him and went back. He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the plowing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his servant” (1 Kings 19:21).

Get the picture? Elisha said goodbye to his family, slaughtered his oxen, and then burned his plows. In other words, Elisha said goodbye to the people and the provision that could hold him back. This was a clear cut from his old life. Elisha was putting his past behind him.

Don’t underestimate God’s ability to call you past your past. And when He does, you’re probably going to have to say goodbye to some people and provision. You’ll have to release the things that hold you back and step into God’s call for your life. That requires the skill of being forward focused.


Big-Picture Perspective

When Moses and Aaron sent 12 men to explore the land of Canaan for 40 days, only two of them — Caleb and Joshua — came back with a good report: “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it” (Numbers 13:30).

But the other 10 spies had a different point of view: “‘We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.’ And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, ‘The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them’” (Numbers 13:31-33).

These skills aren’t easy to develop, but they make all the difference when you find yourself in transition.

What was the difference? Perspective. Caleb and Joshua focused on the opportunity, but the other 10 spies focused on the obstacle. In other words, the spies’ physical eyes saw the same thing, but their spiritual eyes saw something entirely different.

During seasons of transition, you get to choose your perspective. In fact, your perspective will ultimately determine whether you receive your promised land, or you abandon your promised land. The choice is in your eyes.

I’m not suggesting you go through transitions naively or foolishly, but I am suggesting you lift your head up and see what others cannot (or will not) see.


Learning Attitude

Authors James Kouzes and Barry Posner describe what they call, “The Master Skill.” They write, “Learning is the master skill. When you fully engage in learning — when you throw yourself wholeheartedly into experimenting, reflecting, reading, or getting coaching — you are going to experience the thrill of improvement and the taste of success. More is more when it comes to learning.”

Just because you graduate from school, doesn’t mean you should graduate from learning. In fact, if you stop learning in your current season, you won’t be prepared for your next season. As Eric Hoffer once said, “In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”

This point is extraordinarily important for followers of Jesus. We are His disciples, and the word disciple means “learner.” If anybody should have a lifelong learning posture, it should be Christians. Jesus is our Master Teacher, and we are His learners — His followers. Learning is the master skill that makes all others possible.


Trust in God

When you’re walking from one place to the next, it’s composed of a series of steps. While each step begins and ends with both feet on the ground, there’s a transition point where you lift your foot up and step into a new place.

It is when you lift up your foot that you feel most vulnerable. It’s when you raise your foot off the ground that you have the greatest potential to lose control. But because you trust your feet, you’re willing to keep taking steps. In other words, your feet do their greatest work when you trust them to get you from one place to the next.

The same is true with God. In moments of transition — when we have to trust God — He does His finest work in our lives. Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

To trust in the Lord means to lie helpless, face down. It’s the posture of waiting for our Master’s command. It’s a picture of submission to God as our hearts are fully yielded to Him. In that posture we choose to prop ourselves up with His wisdom, not our own. And as we lean on God’s wisdom, His path becomes clear.

This posture requires trust. We’d much rather ask God to bless our path — the one we’re on right now. But God invites us to walk on His path — a path that is already blessed. Abandoning our path for God’s is a transition that requires trust, but it’s always worth it.


Which transition skill do you need to develop in your life? Do you need to be forward focused, willing to let go of yesterday to pursue God’s plan for the future? Do you need to cultivate a big-picture perspective that allows you to see opportunity rather than obstacles? Do you need to develop the master skill of learning so that you’ll be prepared for the place God is leading you? Or do you need to trust God, relying on Him as your ultimate source?

These skills aren’t easy to develop, but they make all the difference when you find yourself in transition.

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