As sure as night follows day there comes a time in every leader’s life when he or she is at the receiving end, or at the passing-on end, of the ‘leadership baton’.
That’s a time when many incoming chairpersons achieve their long-cherished ambition to be appointed chairperson of a club, a society, an institution or an association. It’s a time for you to feel proud of yourself. It’s a time when your spouse and family will be very proud of you and it’s certainly a time when your parents – if either or both of them are still alive – will feel exceptionally proud of you.
Most incoming chairpersons serve their time, so to speak, in an organisation before they are finally appointed to the chair. What usually happens is that you rise up through the ranks, from ordinary membership level to being a member of the board, or a head of a specific activity group. And then the great day comes when you are invited by the incumbent chairperson to be vice-chairperson. Once this happens it is usually only a matter of time before the baton is finally passed on to you. And for a fixed number of years you are the honourable chairperson – or leader of the association.
Some appointments of this nature can last a lifetime, or for as long as you wish to remain in the chair. But, no matter how long your appointment last, it is a huge honour. It is a time for celebrations. It is often a time for public press releases, or for special membership announcements etc. And yes! Depending on the position, it can also be a time of radio interviews or even TV appearances.
The spotlight is on you! But hey! Hold on! Wait a minute! The spotlight is also on someone else as well. Remember, it takes two to pass the baton. And in this case the second person is the outgoing chairman – the person who is handing over the job to you.
So, at the risk of boring you to death by repeating myself let me say here again that as sure as night follows day sometime in the future you too will be an outgoing chairman passing on the baton to your successor. So think in terms of, not one… but two speeches.
Two speeches! That’s what everyone who is involves in passing the leadership baton needs at some stage in their lives. They need an up-beat thank you speech when they have successfully secured the baton and they need an eloquent farewell speech when they are passing on the baton to their successor.
Of the two, the second speech is the easier one to give. Because 99 times out of a hundred all that is required of the outgoing chairperson is a short speech which says two things…
1. Thank you and
2. Best wishes to my successor.
Of course you could go on and tell everyone what an awesome chairperson you were and bore everyone to death by giving then a long list of all your wonderful achievements. But most people who are passing on the baton don’t boast about their achievements. But they do hope that the incoming chairperson will say nice things about them in his/her accepting the baton speech.
Your “accepting the baton speech” is important to more people than just you and your family. It’s also hugely important for the outgoing chairperson and his/her family too. In fact, I would rank it as probably one of the most important speeches that you will give in your life. That’s why I always urge incoming chair-people and new leaders to spend time thinking about what they are going to say in their acceptance speech and to be super-prepared with a gracious and well thought out speech when the big moment arrives.
Remember, this is a speech when everyone wants to hear you saying good things about the outgoing chairman and – now mark the following words carefully – ‘they want to hear you saying it in such a way that everyone involved, fells good about you as well.’
That’s what a memorable “passing the baton” leadership speech is all about… it’s about 100% ‘goodness’. 50% of the goodness goes to the outgoing chairperson in praise and thanks for all his/her wonderful achievements and the other 50% of the goodness goes directly to you in the form of ‘goodwill’ for all the wonderful praise and nice things that you say about your predecessor.
One important way for you to accelerate this ‘goodwill’ factor is for you to tell a good funny story. If possible, try and link your story to the outgoing chairperson so that everyone gets a good laugh and – most important – everyone thinks of you as a ‘good fun’ person to know.
Here’s an example of how to do this link: Ladies and gentlemen, as most of you know, George, our outgoing Chairman, was always great company to be with. He has a wonderful sense of humour and over the years he has shared many a good joke or a hilariously funny story with us. Now I don’t know whether I heard this story from George or not. I suspect I did. But even so, I know that he will get great enjoyment from me sharing it with you here… (Go on to tell the joke – if possible name one of the people in the joke: George.)
Here it is a 10-point speech template which encapsulates the points mentioned above and which will to help you to write a successful ‘passing the baton’ speech…
1…. Open by thanking everyone for being there…
2…. give background information on George’s long association with the organisation/company…
3…. give some highlights of George’s achievements as the chairman of the association/ company…
4…. and outline some of George’s successful attributes and skills as chairman
5…. mention some of George’s personal achievements.
6…. tell a joke (or a witty story about George) if you think that this will go down well.
7…. but remember to try and tie in all jokes to George, if you can.
8…. now, slow down, get technical, and talk about the huge skill, the vast amount of preparation and skilful technique that in the world of sports goes into successfully passing on the baton.
9…. and emphasise that ‘thanks to George’ the baton has being passed on to you successfully.
10…. and finish up with a clever link between you talking about successfully passing and receiving the baton and you actually receiving in your hands from your secretary or a colleague, a farewell gift to present to George.