In relay races, it is extremely important it is that the baton is passed between each runner on the team paying special attention to the exchange and being careful to not drop the baton at any time during the race.

According to Olympic rules, the baton can only be passed within the exchange zone, which is 20 meters long. Exchanges made outside the zone, which is based on the position of the baton, not the runners’ feet, result in disqualification. Passers must remain in their lanes after the pass to avoid blocking other runners. The baton must be carried by hand. If it is dropped, the runner can leave the lane to retrieve the baton as long as the recovery doesn’t lessen the total running distance and the runner does not impede other runners in the race.

During my Chick-fil-A  career, I was honored to “pass the baton” to several new Chick-fil-A franchisees at the  grand opening ceremonies. This simple, but meaningful act, symbolizes the assignment of responsibility to lead the new restaurant. Success of the brand is determined by the careful passing of the baton to the next protector of the brand. These new leaders and the restaurant’s team members have tremendous responsibility to receive the baton from those who have run the race and continue the legacy of serving excellent food, caring for people and providing remarkable customer experiences. Just as in a relay race, the hand-off is very intentional and occurs within a zone of diligent selection, intense training and preparation and, finally, a supportive launch of the new leader.

At this stage of life, the most important role I have is to carefully pass the baton to the next generation of leaders. For any of us who have vision, ideals and passion, we are compelled to help those who come behind us find their way.

How can we steward emerging leader talent?

  1. Provide emerging leaders responsibility early and often. Don’t keep them waiting too long for their opportunity or they will find another one.
  2. Ask emerging leaders their opinion. Listen to them and act on ideas to help the organization grow and succeed.
  3. Create a clear development path. Help them create a vision of themselves for the future and then guide them toward the vision.
  4. Advocate for emerging leaders. Champion, sponsor and mentor the next generation of talent and then be a voice for them.
  5. Allow emerging leaders to fail and recover. Learning occurs from trial and error. Give them space to fail and them help them discover their own resilience.

Three actions automatically disqualify a relay team and they all are about the hand-off of the baton. If we hold tightly to the baton, refusing to pass it on to the next leader, the organization will fail because there will be no leaders prepared to meet the future. If we pass it too quickly, before the new leader is in the zone, and unprepared to receive the baton, the young leader will be deemed unqualified and may not have another opportunity to compete for a future leadership role. If we pass it too late, when the leader has left the zone, we will have missed the talent right in front of us and will lose the the talent.

The most important role of any leader is to prepare the next generation of leaders to serve. The most important role of any leader is to prepare the next generation of leaders to serve. Click To TweetLearn more about mentoring emerging leaders in my new book, Bet on Talent: How to Create a Remarkable Culture that Wins the Hearts of Customers.