Right now, SuperBowl XLV is underway. I’d like to be enjoying my home theater for viewing the game. Instead, I’m on an airplane flying from Arlington to Minneapolis. (No, not Arlington, TX where the big game is being played — Arlington, VA.) I wanted to see this game because I have ties to both teams. My dad and very good friends (Shout out to Jacque and to Pastor Denny!) are from Pittsburgh. Living in St. Paul, I have many friends who are Packer fans. My DVR will allow me to enjoy the game if I can successfully avoid hearing score updates over the plane’s PA.
Football fans know that hand-off of the ball between quarterback and running back is critical. Get it right and a big play might ensue. When they get it wrong, the result is usually mediocre and can lead to a turnover. A successful hand-off requires the players’ precise timing of movements and keen awareness of their surroundings. In high school, I was a sprinter. I ran short distances up to 400m, including the relay events, some of the more exciting events in the sport. The most difficult aspect of a relay race is the hand-off of the baton. In a blind hand-off, the next runner starts off on his leg of the race with one arm and open hand extended backward, but looking forward. The previous runner must place that baton firmly and precisely in the hand. Doing so means a continued race to the finish line. Dropping it guarantees a low finish or disqualification.
What do the football and the baton represent in their sports? They represent continuation of the mission. “Moving the ball down the field” is a phrase often heard in football. It could just as easily be “Continuing pursuit of our mission” (but that’s not nearly as catchy!). In running relays, the mission is to carry the baton from beginning to end through four runners, faster than anyone else, without ever dropping it.
Have you ever dropped the leadership baton? Any honest leader will say, “Yes, I have.” Every leader at one time or another botches the hand-off. There are three major ways for a leader to botch the hand-off.
Not Starting the Race – Failing to Cast Vision
Seasoned leaders know one of the greatest responsibilities of leadership is to cast vision. Leading is about the future. It is about going to a different place. It is about being different. It is all about change. Followers have nowhere to go if they cannot see the future. It is the leader’s responsibility to paint a picture of the preferred future. Not casting vision is actually worse than dropping the baton mid-race: it is akin to not even starting the race.
Are you really running the race of leadership — casting vision? Or are you just sitting on the sidelines with the followers?
Not Handing Off the Baton – Delegating in Name Only
Another great responsibility of leadership is to delegate responsibilities to others. Leaders cannot do it all alone. Success is built on the efforts of many. However, one of the greatest frustrations I hear from followers is about leaders who delegate tasks but never truly let go. They do not really hand off the baton to followers. Leaders keep their hands on the assignment to a degree that interferes with the followers’ ability to get the job done right. This issue is really one of trust. Leaders who do not let go in the hand-off are not trusting followers to run the baton to the next step.
Are you trying to keep a hand on the baton? Do you trust your followers? Why not?
Not Choosing Teammates to Run With – No Succession Plan
One of the greatest under-explored realms of leadership is succession. For several reasons, leaders are not good at considering the possibility of “getting hit by a bus” or the possibility they will find something else to do one day. In either case, leaders have a responsibility to followers for their continued livelihood. They must choose people to run the race with. Relay races always involve more than one person. The first runner does not run the first leg, hand himself the baton, and continue. It is a lack of foresight to think you can run the entire relay alone.
Who is the next runner in your race? Are you preparing others to carry on when you let go of the baton?
As a leader you must consider how well you execute the hand-off. You must start the race, hand-off the baton, and choose others to run with. Not doing any of these severely limits your ability to lead!
Congratulations to the Green Bay Packers and Packer fans everywhere!