Moyes, Moses and leadership succession

It’s not every day that someone in a lift in a Jerusalem hotel asks you if you are personally responsible for David Moyes leaving his job, but that happened to me today (I was wearing an Everton shirt at the time – a decent conversation starter, obviously).

For those of you who don’t know, David Moyes came to prominence during 11 moderately successful years as manager at Everton where, without ever winning any trophies, he established the team at the right end of the league. A year ago, on the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, he was appointed manager of Manchester United. That adventure came to an end for him this week.

Ferguson had been manager of United since the early years of the 20th century (not really, but quite a long time) and had become something of a legend. Whoever came next was going to need very big feet. Moyes would try to be that man.

In football terms, it could be argued that Ferguson left Moyes something of a poisoned chalice in the shape of a declining team (despite the fact that they had just won the Premier League) that was going to need some renovation work done. It could also be argued that Moyes simply did not have experience of managing a team that expected to win silverware: under his stewardship, Everton had been nearly men.

There are some interesting leadership questions around all of this. How do leaders handle succession? What kind of legacy needs to be in place for the new leader? Who chooses the new leader? What qualities need to be evident in the new leader?

I don’t know if Moyes is an ancient Gallic word for the biblical character Moses (happy to find out that it is), but the story of Moses throws interesting light on the question of leadership transitions. At the end of Moses’ 40 years of leadership, God leads him to appoint Joshua as his successor. Joshua has already served as Moses’ assistant and has demonstrated the character of his own faith. He turns out to be the answer to Moses’ prayer that God would not leave the people leaderless. Joshua will complete the work that Moses started when he leads the people into the land of promise. Having prayed for a successor, Moses commissions and encourages him for what lies ahead. The succession is successful.

In contrast, when Joshua’s leadership ends, the sequel becomes very messy. Spiritually, the people stay faithful during the lifetime of Joshua and his peers. However the following book – Judges – tells a tale of chaos, where a recurring theme is that everyone did what was right in their own eyes.

True, Scripture does not point a finger at Joshua for this, but the contrast with the Moses-Joshua transition highlights how well the earlier transition happened.

What do you think? How can an church, school, business, or even a football club (!) succeed at succession?

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