When passing the torch, don’t get burned

In passing the torch of responsibility, it’s easy to get burned if attention isn’t paid to a few hand-off survival tips. With retirement age sweeping through many corporations today, there’s lots of talk about “passing the torch,” a saying from ancient Greece when literally, a flaming torch was passed along during a race Pitchforks_and_torches_by_TheMobplzwith the goal of keeping it burning until the end. In the corporate and organization world it means passing on responsibility, wisdom, vision, and all that good stuff. However, there are ways to keep from getting burned in this tricky process.

To the passer of the torch: Remember that what fuels your torch is not necessarily what fuels the fire in another’s belly. Torches are often passed with expectations that the light of wisdom shining the way for one will illuminate the path for others. Hence we get struggles in the hand-off with CEOs and other leaders reluctant to let go at especially critical times. Fumbles and fights over control occur, with the end result being a great loss of momentum. You may have expectations that strategies and goals will remain burning bright, lit by the same thought processes and actions that created the spark of innovation in the first place. The reality is, such an expectation is highly unrealistic in today’s demanding and changing environments of competition and expectations. So, when passing the torch, learn to let go, smoothly yet carefully. Let others learn through application of their own skill and experiences of how to keep the fires burning.

To the receiver of the torch: It’s useful to remember that you did not invent fire. That what is being passed on is often the accumulation of years and decades of experience, trial and error, and often the blood, sweat and tears of those passing the torch. They may not always have been “right” but usually they were well-intentioned. A respectful hand-off not only shows class but also an understanding of how the race is run. Someday you too will be passing on your own torch of accomplishment and wisdom. How would you feel if the first reaction was a bucket of cold water on your flame of passion? No doubt you will run forward in a different style, likely setting a unique pace, and finding fresh fuel to energize your team and organization. Which is a good thing. Flames die out if not stoked. And more than one organization has ended in ashes because those in the race failed to successfully pass the torch.

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