Seamless Succession: You Are the Leadership Baton Carrier in This Tough Race

As a CEO, you carry the baton of leadership in a special relay race. If you do a great job, your organization may last long beyond your tenure. You’ve been given this extraordinary baton of leadership for a short time, and at some point you will need to hand it off.

Unlike an Olympic race, your relay has different rules: If your organization continues to prosper, a series of baton carriers can help keep your company running for decades! Rather than having a fixed distance, you have an indeterminate time. You may have a large say in determining when the handoff of leadership occurs—and who the new baton carrier will be.

In your relay of leadership, your competitors never stop. While some may stumble and quit the race, others may leap from the stands and start running—at any time! You have to look in all directions for future competitors.

In this race, you need to balance two conflicting priorities: 1) produce short-term, quarterly results—if you have too many missteps and bad quarters, you’ll quickly be out of the race; and 2) do what is in the best long-term interest of the organization—if you don’t, your company will eventually be out of the race (and you’ll fail as its baton carrier).

While carrying the baton of leadership, you can prepare your successor for the handoff—ensuring that your successor is up to speed as you slow down to hand over the leadership baton.

In Olympic relays, the audience cheers as the handoff is made. Each new runner brings new hope of closing the gap or expanding the lead.

As you carry the leadership baton, many people watch your every move and care deeply about performance. Stockholders frantically "check your time" to make sure that they are getting a return on their invested dollars—and wonder if you can keep delivering.

Analysts count to ensure that you meet commitments—and ponder your chances for success in the next lap. Customers watch to ensure that you deliver value—and wonder what you can do for them in the future.

Employees critically review your actions to ensure that your deeds match your words—and that your leadership merits their trust and loyalty. Competitors look for signs of exhaustion—and hope that you’ll fade.

After the handoff, you quickly disappear from view, and everyone starts cheering for the next carrier.

What will be your legacy? If you do a great job at developing your successor, part of your legacy will be that you were a leader who took the high road and worked to ensure sustainability and success after your departure.

You will be viewed as a leader who helped ensure that the values lived on after you were gone.

You need to prepare to be ready for succession. You may think that this will be easy, but it is always tougher than you can imagine. It is easy to fall in love with the baton of leadership—and almost impossible to let it go.

Passing the baton is the final challenge of great leadership. If you do it poorly, or drop the baton, you may do grave damage to your organization.

Are you ready for succession? Your answer may determine the success of your organization after you leave!

First Published in Leadership Excellence 5/2009 @