To whom are you passing the torch?

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Mentorship, leadership development

The single biggest way to impact an organization is to focus on leadership development. There is almost no limit to the potential of an organization that recruits good people, raises them up as leaders and continually develops them.
John Maxwell


The other day, I watched a beautiful ceremony at my son’s school, which was a wonderful symbol of the transfer of leadership. This school is Kindergarten thru 8th grade, and this would be the final full week of school and an all-school gathering for the 8th graders. We knew we would see awards, shed some tears, and say our almost-goodbyes, but I was not quite prepared for the final message.


Each 8th grader stood up and lined up in a row in front of the audience with candles in hand. A teacher went by to light each of their candles, creating a spark in their eyes. Then, the principal asked the 7th graders to walk up and stand in front of an 8th grader. The 8th graders handed their lit candles to the 7th grader in front of them. Finally, the principal requested that the 7th graders turn to us in the audience and introduced them as the new leaders of the school. These new leaders beamed with pride!




This must have been awe-inspiring for the very small kids. I was an inspired middle-aged woman. This event struck me as something that organizational leaders need to do more often. That is, we must recognize that the key role of a true leader is to hand the torch on to the next bunch. Additionally, we must do a better job of recognizing the heart and effort that goes into the role of leader.


In the case of the 8th graders, all their lower classmates looked up to them over the years. In many ways, they aspired to be like those who stood up front with lit candles in hand. It takes a lot to stand in those shoes. Moreover, it was a great honor for the 8th graders to pass the torch to the next group. They stood there, like only caring leaders can, and gently passed their torches with looks of humility and pride.


People often cringe when I say “manager,” because there is such a negative connotation of managers, but managers can be leaders too.


When we think of “leaders,” we often think of men and women who seek to grow and promote the talents of their people. In fact, it can be argued that one cannot have the title of “leader” without some proof that they passed on knowledge, lifted others up, or empowered others to be their best selves. In this respect, we can’t give ourselves this title. Those who choose to follow us also choose whether we deserve this title.


This 10-minute ceremony reminded me of this awesome truth. Below are 3 powerful ways managers can ensure that they earn the leadership title:


1.       Always have a shadow

The one thing that struck me before the ceremony started is that upper classmen reversed their roles and were walking next to the 7th graders to complete tasks before the ceremony. They were there as mentors and coaches to guide the next leaders to complete tasks independently and  confidently. They really wanted their protégés to succeed. This way, they learned by teaching and the students learned by trying.


If you are truly interested in earning the title of “leader,” you must make sure to have high- potential team members shadow your workday frequently. If we assume that you might move up or move on, it is your responsibility to hand the torch down to those who understand your job and the surroundings.


2.       Plan to be replaced

Many organizations have a weak succession-planning infrastructure. They don’t really plan for promotions or turnovers. Then they are left at a loss when these events happen. As the manager of a team, a department, or a division, do not wait for human resources to initiate succession planning for you. You are the one who seeks to earn the title of “leader.” Take it upon yourself to start locally, start small, and seek out the help.


In the end, those managers who plan to be replaced, either through promotion or separation, are much more likely to be the leader whom others will want to follow.


3.       Look for their gifts

Right before the torch-passing ceremony, a few middle school teachers handed out special awards to a little over a handful of kids. Each award was specially titled after a saint who best represented the recipient of this award.


We are all specially gifted with unique qualities. It is the role of a leader to find the gifts of each of his/her teammates and unleash them. In truth, the most effective and well-known leaders make it their focus to dig deep to uncover all that is great inside the people they lead. Anything short of this relegates these people to managers.


As an aspiring leader, or one who has done the hard work to earn this title, know that your main job is to pass the torch to others so that they, too, can shine. Keep a candle nearby to remind you of this fact.


If you need a little help being the leader your people want and expect from you, enroll in my Employee Loyalty Leader boot-camp. We will work together in a group environment to help you not only grow as a leader, but reveal your best self to create more engaged and loyal employees.

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