November 22, 2019

Can We Please Have Shoulders to Stand On?

Each generation goes further than the generation preceding it because it stands on the shoulders of that generation.

–Ronald Reagan

As I watched the democrat debate last night I saw, at the center of the stage, three old, tired, frustrated senior citizens.  In most societies and times, these three would be enjoying themselves: golfing, fishing, playing with their grandkids, reading a book by the fire, or yelling at their TVs while political candidates debated.  Yet, instead of slowing down, these three are continuing their multi-decade fight for a better America.  However, to their left and right stood 7 others, many imminently qualified, ideologically similar, and younger…up to 39 years younger!

This got me thinking about succession planning.  You need look no further than the books of Kings and Chronicles in the Bible to see the impact of poor succession planning.  As you read the stories of the Jewish kings, you hear alternating stories of a good king then a bad, good and then bad.  What went wrong: terrible succession planning.  Each king was so busy being kingly, so focused on his own reign, that he failed to prepare the next king to take over where he left off and go further, few kings stood on the shoulders of the previous generation.  One notable exception was King David handing off to King Solomon.  Solomon became king before David died, the transition went generally smoothly, for most of King Solomon’s life he followed after God, and these were known as the golden years of Israel.

However, as we look at the current political landscape, in both parties, it’s clear that the children of the 1940s are refusing to create and execute succession plans.  Here are a few household names who were born in the 40s: Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, George W Bush, Donald Trump, Michael Bloomberg, Nancy Pelosi, and Mitch McConnell.  Now, I’m not saying all these folks need to be put out to pasture, but seriously, life expectancy in the US is 78.7 years.  It’s crazy to think that the biggest players in politics are all less than 10 years from average life expectancy.

So, I’d like to suggest that perhaps it’s time for the children of the 40s to start thinking about and executing succession plans before it’s too late.  As an example, I’d say to Joe Biden (77):

You are closely aligned with Pete Buttigieg (37) and Cory Booker (50).  Instead of fighting these wonderful younger men, endorse them, join them, help them campaign, give them much needed experience and wisdom…help them succeed!  Both of them have decades to carry forward your mantel whenever it falls from your shoulders.  Don’t fight to hold it as long as possible, turn it over with grace and teach them to lead.

For the rest of you children of the 40s, realize this, the curtain will be closing soon on your generation.  You can fight to hold it open, you can stick your head out as it closes, you can block the next generation from arising, but, eventually, the curtain will close. King David learned this in 1 Kings 1:5-48.  He found out that one of his most critical final actions was to appoint the next king, even though that meant that a new person would sit on his throne while he was still alive.  David chose to select his successor, charge him, and coach him as he took on the kingship.  Imagine if David had refused to anoint Solomon before his death: Adonijah would have become king and Israel might have never had the temple or the golden years.

You too have this same choice.  Just like King David, your curtain will close soon.  If you fight to maximize your own role in this autumn season, you will minimize your long term impact by failing to choose and support your successor.  However, if you instead take this opportunity to invite your children and grand children to climb onto your shoulders; commission us to carry the torch forward; and train us to from your knowledge, wisdom, and experience; you’ll ensure that your legacy lives on for years in the hearts and lives of those you cherish most.

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