When we hear the phrase ‘term limits’ or ‘terms of office’ we generally think about government roles and they can vary greatly. In the United States, the President is limited to two four-year terms, while in the United Kingdom, there is no term limit for the Prime Minister, with general elections held every five years.
However, some roles, such as members of Congress or ministers in certain denominations of churches, do not have term limits. Similarly, many business boards and organizations have lifetime roles for their leaders, only replacing them when they are unable to serve or resign.
If you say, “We don’t have term limits” does this mean that you are maintaining the status quo, and that current leaders deserve their positions indefinitely?
What about in YWAM? We don’t actually have a policy of term limits apart from the encouragement for conveners to change every 2 years which may or may not happen. What do you think about this? If we are to be ‘Youth’ with a mission, should we not keep passing on all our leadership roles to young people? So, let’s look at the pros and cons of terms of office or term limits.
- Motivation for change: When you are new to a role, you have energy and passion to give to it and are more motivated to make a difference. You desire to see changes and development taking place, especially when you recognise you have a limited time to see those changes be implemented. Leaders who have been in place for a long time can easily become complacent so their leadership become tired or stagnated. Do you think in five, ten, or twenty years from now that you’ll be bringing the level of passion and commitment to the job that you are giving to it now? Probably not.
- Fresh perspectives: New leaders are looking to bring new ideas to the table, different perspectives, and innovative solutions to the problems being faced. The approaches taken in the past aren’t always the same ones that we’ll need in the future and younger leaders are able to approach issues from a new generational viewpoint. Having new leaders also means new contacts, new relationships, new connections, new directions and new opportunities.
- Change of gifting: In the development of a team, base or ministry we go through phases which often require a particular gifting. So, a current leader may not be right for the organisation after a certain length of time. Where there have been years of pioneering and envisioning, there often needs to be a season of establishment and settling. It’s the time for systems and processes to be put in place for better management and leadership development. This usually takes a different leadership at the helm. Also, as you look to the future, or think about the challenges your organization is facing today, it is likely that you’ll need a different skill set than what you have in the leadership team today.
- Keeping a youth focus: Term limits provide the opportunity to continually recruit a younger leader who has a rapport with the young generation. Younger leaders will be more in touch with new technologies, current communication methods and fresh innovation.
- Equal opportunities: Term limits will promote fair and equal opportunities for all members of the team to take on leadership roles, rather than allowing a select few to hold onto their positions indefinitely.
- Accountability: When there are ineffective leaders in place, a term limit provides a respectful and efficient mechanism for a change of leadership.
- Loss of experience and institutional knowledge: Experience and institutional knowledge are valuable assets that may be lost when leaders are forced to step down due to term limits. It often takes several years for a leader to get comfortable and establish themselves in their role, so term limits can move leaders on before they have matured in the role.
- Loss of staff: With every change of leadership there is the possibility of loss of staff and leaders who were committed to and supporting the previous leader. The change can often be a marker for them to move on and so we can lose a whole section of leadership in one go.
- Loss of stability: There is a certain stability with a long-term leader. You get to know how they function and their strengths and weaknesses are understood. There are no surprises. Leaders who have been in place for some time, are able to handle difficult situations and call on their history, knowledge and wisdom gained to make wise decisions and plans.
- Loss of continuity: Every organisation goes through phases of growth and learns important lessons. When you have long term leaders in place, they are able to share the organizational history, stories and lessons and keep the direction on track with past ‘words of the Lord’ and strategic direction.
- Risk of creating a revolving door: Term limits may lead to a revolving door of leaders, where individuals are constantly being replaced and there is no continuity or stability in leadership. The best leaders should be chosen based on their qualifications, ability and results rather than risk losing these leaders and having to choose leaders who don’t have the right giftings.
- Different kinds of term limits: There are different kinds of terms of office – ones that give a set amount of time and then the leader has to step down; other terms give a set time for clear evaluation as to whether it’s wise and beneficial for the leader themselves and the organisation to stay in place or be replaced.
- Term limits too short: If the term of office is too short, the leader finds themselves having to step down before they have got comfortable with the job and know what needs to be done and how to do it.
- Evaluation: We always want to be sure we have the right person in a role, so it’s wise to have a yearly review for the benefit of both parties and then a major evaluation every 5 years.
- Expertise and youthful innovation: We also want the best of both worlds – expertise and youthful innovation. So, we need to have a system perhaps like the House of Commons and the House of Lords in the UK. The house of commons creates the laws but the House of Lords can pull it apart and make amendments and send it back to the House of Commons for further discussion and decision. The house of Lords doesn’t make new laws but can bring wisdom from their years in office to those making decisions. The house of Lords in a YWAM setting would be made up of senior leaders. So, in each level of leadership – team, base, nation and ACT, we need wise, older more experienced leaders or elders available, to pass on wisdom that the younger leaders can utilise. Obviously there needs to be respect for each other and close relationships maintained.
- Ten-year span: There have been a number of studies showing that after ten years, a leader has given their best to a role and it’s helpful for them as individuals and the organisation, to move on. Therefore, as a basic rule, I would encourage five-year terms for base, national and ACT roles with the opportunity of a second term after evaluation and feedback. Then these leaders can move sideways into an advisory elder type of role. This would then allow senior leaders at every level of base, nation, area to have experienced leaders to bring input, share wisdom and help in strategic decisions, working through difficult conflicts or dilemmas in leadership.
I hope you will be able to have some important conversations regarding this topic and consider taking on wise senior YWAM consultants for situations and dilemmas that you face, rather than make all your decisions within your own context.
Until next month
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