Will You Know When to Pass the Torch?

olympic_torchAll good things must come to an end, and this week, the Summer Olympics games in Rio came to an end as well. After a colorful closing ceremony celebrating the athletes and host country, the torch was passed to Tokyo who will host the winter games in 2020.

The passing of the torch is a deeply meaningful and symbolic experience. Carrying the torch is an awesome responsibility. Being selected as a torch bearer is a true honor bestowed upon universally respected individuals. The torch bearer is responsible for keeping the flame burning until it is ready for the next recipient. They carefully and methodically pass the torch on to the next person who carries it further toward its final destination.

Being a torch bearer is both an honor and responsibility, and is a job that requires very careful planning and execution.

As leaders, we bear similar responsibilities. Regardless of how successful, respected, or well-liked you are, at some point you will pass the torch on to a successor who will continue leading the organization forward to its final destination. It’s not a question of if—it’s a question of when.

When is the right time to pass the torch?
Finding the right time is a complex challenge. In an ideal world, we’d all like to go out on a winning note. But how much success is just enough? As every gambler will tell you, it’s nearly impossible to walk away from the table during a winning streak. The high is too strong. As the gambler tells himself “one more hand,” you will find yourself thinking “one more year.”

The only thing more difficult than leaving on a winning streak is leaving on a losing hand. No one wants their lasting memory to be a negative one. And no one wants to leave a mess for their successor.

So, it’s hard to leave as a winner, and hard to leave as a loser. It’s just plain hard to step away.

Leaders are passionate individuals. They take ownership over their team, responsibilities, mission, and goals. When you’ve invested your heart, soul, time, and energy into an organization, it may feel like there’s no such thing as a right time to leave.

However, there are a few key times when it’s clear the leader must pass the torch:

When it’s no longer a healthy relationship. If the stress is too much, your family is suffering, or you’re experiencing anxiety/depression over the role, it’s time to leave. Your health comes first.
You’re not progressing. We all need to keep improving our skills in order to improve the lives of those around us. When we’re stagnant, we can’t help anyone else.
Someone else is ready. When it’s clear that your successor is ready, willing, and able to take on the responsibility of your role, it is selfish to stand in his/her way. Sometimes you have to step aside so another star can shine.
You’ve lost your passion. Sometimes you have to leave your comfort zone to remind yourself what you really want to do and why.

The only person who really knows the right time to step down is you. If you’ve mentored a successor and worked to develop the skills of everyone around you, you can leave with peace of mind knowing you made the organization a better place. Remember, it is always better to pass to torch with grace and humility than be pushed out kicking and screaming.