Discussing some of my leadership shortcomings with a colleague reminded me of a common mistake often made during leadership transition. While trying to compensate or recover from the weaknesses of an outgoing leader, people overreact and choose a new leader who swings the organization too far in the other direction. This is called the pendulum effect – moving from one extreme to another, rather than correcting out-of-balance practices with healthier options.
Consider these examples. A church loses their pastor who was a strong preacher but not as gifted in relational skills. They shift their pastoral model from prophet to counselor, correcting the imbalance but perhaps creating new problems in the process. Or consider an intuitive worship leader who lacks solid organizational skills. Her replacement gets the program on schedule, but feels too regimented to those accustomed to a different leadership style. These examples illustrate the negative aspect of too much correction – the pendulum effect.
This dynamic can also be observed in church or organizational design. For example, a church has bureaucratic decision-making so they streamline their governance by eliminating all committees and public decision-making meetings. Or a pastor had an overbearing elder board in his former church, so he demands a more hands-off approach in his new one. The pendulum effect can impact either individuals or organizations.
The opposite extreme, however, can also be problematic. Searching for a new leader who is just like the departing one overlooks an opportunity for healthy change. No leader is perfect and every leader creates flawed organizations. When leadership change happens, the situation is ripe for healthy change – correcting mistakes of the past without over-correcting and creating unhealthy disruption. Failing to address organizational shortcomings resulting from past leadership weaknesses means needed correction – the resulting positive progress – never happens.
If you are a supervisor replacing a staff member, a search committee looking for a senior leader, or a present leader fine-tuning your organizational design, find the sweet spot of needed correction by choosing new people and processes who offset shortcomings and fix resulting organizational flaws – without swinging the pendulum too far in the opposite direction. Leadership change and organizational adjustments are important inflection points which should lead to healthier function. Making needed adjustments, without the whiplash felt from the pendulum effect, is the optimal path to more balanced organizational function.