Passing the Torch

Passing The TorchAs we draw to the end of one year, and begin to plan for the next, I have a leadership question for you. Are you actively working to pass the torch? I don’t necessarily mean yours (although you shouldn’t rule that out either) . . . I mean your organization’s torch. Let me explain.

We have a concept in our organization that we have dubbed “second generation leadership.” For starters, we shift people’s roles more frequently than many organizations, which offers a range of benefits. We work with a gifts and graces mindset. That is, when you recognize the unique skills and perspectives of your staff members, you can then identify people to take on a project or new initiative based on those things rather than by tenure or title. This kind of flexibility allows the organization to be nimble in the face of emerging opportunities. It also enables people to grow and develop in ways that would not happen in a more traditional hierarchical structure. We, in effect, have what Kotter  identifies as a dual-operating system.

And then we take the concept one step further. Once a program or concept is developed, we also look at opening up spots for others to sharpen their skills by again shifting leadership roles. This allows the original leaders to grow and expand in new areas and also encourages emerging leaders to stretch themselves, and yes occasionally stub their toes, as they further build their capacity. A side benefit of this is that the focus stays on the program, the mission, rather than on one particular person’s way of doing things. It becomes “our program” rather than “their program,” not to downplay anyone’s contribution (of which there are many) but to shine a light on the larger mission. We pass the torch, and in so doing keep the organization’s flame burning bright.

I give this example not to say that the way we go about passing the torch is the right way, or the only way, but merely as an example that this isn’t some theoretical whoo-whoo. Passing the torch allows people to continually stretch and grow, it invigorates your organization, and keeps your programs from getting stagnant because new ideas get infused on a regular basis. Yes, you have to watch for mission drift, and yes, it can be hard for people to let go of “their baby” that they have worked so hard to build. But they aren’t really letting go. They become more like grandparents who can take great pride in the “parenting” of the next generation.

Passing the torch is not always easy, but it is important if you want your organization to be a place of new ideas that continually strives to extend its mission reach. As you look toward a new year, what steps will you take to expand the flame of engagement and excitement throughout your organization? Maybe it’s time to pass the torch.

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