How to Lead After A Great Leader

To lead after a great leader is one of the worst things that can happen to a leader.

It’d be one thing if the person before you was crappy–cause all you could do is go up! But a great leader? How do you fill such shoes?

That’s what Joshua had to deal with. He had to take over Moses’ job and lead Israel into the Promised Land.


The man who led Israel out bondage and, with God’s help, overthrew the greatest nation at the time. The man who gave them a vision of a land flowing with milk and honey. The man who, with his staff, opened the Red Sea. The man who talked with God so much his face shined—and he didn’t even know it. God loved Moses so much that when people opposed him He defended him…and quickly!

How exactly do you lead after a man like that?!

“What would Walt Do?”

That was the question that the Walt Disney Company had to answer at one point. The company flourished under its founder and leader, Walt Disney.

He was innovative, a strategic thinker, he encouraged criticism and open discussion, he pushed the envelope, and did what others said were impossible. Unfortunately when he died, the company began a slow and steady decline.

In 1977 Roy E.Disney, Walt’s nephew, quit citing a decline in overall product quality and issues with management.

And in 1979 Don Bluth, a highly competent leader and animator, left to start his own studio, and other animators left with him.

Keep in mind: strong leaders leave in the absence of strong leadership.

Rather than go forward with a new vision the executives were constantly asking themselves, “What would Walt Do?” Bluth summed it up in a 1989 interview:

“At Disney, everybody was trying to do what they thought Walt would do. Every time you opened a cupboard, there was his picture. ‘What would Walt do?’ I think you need living leaders working in the current environment. Walt was gone and trying to guess for a dead man wasn’t productive.”

In other words: they were working for a dead man!

It wasn’t until 1984 when the board brought in Michael Eisner and Frank Wells to replace Ron Miller did the company start seeing growth again.

Great Shoes to Fill

So the question remains: how do you lead after a great leader? How do you fill such great shoes?

You don’t.

You don’t fill their shoes, you walk in your own. You set your own vision. You maintain the same purpose, but with different methods. Jesus said:

“The person who trusts Me will not only do what I’m doing but even greater things, because I, on my way to the Father, am giving you the same work to do that I’ve been doing. You can count on it!” -John 14:12 (The Message)

Remember: you don’t change the purpose but you change the methods.

There’s an eastern philosophy that sums this up:

“We seek not to imitate the masters; rather we seek what they sought.”

Joshua never tried to be Moses, David never tried to be Saul, Solomon never tried to be David, and Timothy never tried to Paul. They were themselves–and they were at their best when they realized it.

You’re an original, not a carbon copy. Don’t fill their shoes, walk in your own.


Guest Author:

Michael is an author, blogger, and speaker. He is the author of I Shall Raise Thee Up: Ancient Principles for Lasting Greatness. He blogs and speaks about leadership development from a Biblical perspective. It’s leadership by the Book! When he’s not writing or speaking, he can be found writing bios in the 3rd person. Check out his blog/website here, pick up the book here, or the audiobook here.

One Comment

Join the Conversation