Great leaders pass the torch. In other words, they hand off the role of leadership to future generations. What separates great leaders from ordinary leaders is the timing of when this process begins. It is not at the end of their career or when the board votes them out. The passing of the torch is an ongoing process as they identify and develop the talent around them. They identify leaders early in their career and begin to cultivate them for the right roles based on the individual’s strengths and passions. The secret of an excellent organization is found in their leadership culture and their ability to develop others.
Whether you are a leader at work, at home, on your sports team, or in your community, you must engage in the process of passing the torch. Here are a few things that you can learn from how great leaders pass the torch:
- Lead the Way – Great leaders set the example for others to follow. They live out the core values of the organization, and they are authentic in their pursuit of growth. They view learning as a lifelong process, and they invite others to grow and learn along the way by sharing and investing in the growth of others. Their leadership model does not exist in a vacuum or at the expense of others; it is because of others that they lead in the right way.
- Become a Connoisseur of Talent – In their book Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration, Warren Bennis and Patricia Ward Biederman profoundly say, “The leaders of great groups love talent and know where to find it. They revel in the talent of others.” As a leader, do you “revel” in the talent of others? Do you take great pleasure in helping the people you lead succeed? Some leaders view their people as a threat or always focus on reinforcing what they cannot do versus developing what they can do and placing them in positions to succeed. A connoisseur of talent is a leadership creator.
- Hold on to Power Loosely – You have been given a position of power for a reason. Some leaders want to "carry the torch," but they don't want to "pass the torch." In his book Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power, Andy Crouch does a masterful job of explaining why leaders and power exist – to help others flourish and society succeed. Your “power” - and the total power of the organization – does not diminish as you pass it on to future generations. It increases and multiplies thereby creating opportunities and positive impact to the society – e.g. employees, clients, teammates, children – you have been called to cultivate.
- Understand and Nurture Generational Leadership – Great leaders understand their place in the line of generational leadership. They are grateful for the incredible leaders that have come before them and invested in their lives, and they demonstrate their appreciation by investing in future generations of leaders. The biggest “thank you” they can give to past mentors is to pass these lessons on to future mentees. Organizations thrive when they are not dependent on one great leader but are interdependent on a network of leaders that sustain the leadership culture.
As you think about your roles at home, at work, on your team, and in your community, make it a point to focus on developing the next generation of leaders. Light the way and pass the torch!