All life, not just business, is a ‘Relay’ race – let’s not drop the baton?
All of life is a ‘Relay’ race; one long, never-ending, perpetual ‘Relay’ whereby we accept the baton as individuals, as organizations and even as generations from those that passed this way before, do our best, and then attempt to pass the baton on without fumbling it.
This is how mankind has evolved, one individual, one group, one generation learning from, and building upon what went before. Our job is to, at very least, not ‘feck it up’.
Businesses passing from one generation to the next is a classic example of how the ‘Relay’ works in the world of commerce. Indeed monarchies and religions are much the same.
In the multi-Oscar winning movie, The King’s Speech, Prince Albert of York, played brilliantly by the wonderfully talented Colin Firth Duke, and who eventually became King George VI was arguing with his very forthright father, King George V and naively said something about the family to which the King retorted rather angrily, “This is not a family, it’s a firm!”
And the firm must survive.
Pope Francis, is the 266th and current Pope (head) of the Roman Catholic Church, a title he holds ex officio as Bishop of Rome, and Sovereign of the Vatican City. In simple terms the baton has passed directly from one Pope to the next 265 times in succession since St Peter started that particular race over 2,000 years ago during the time of Jesus.
Yet we don’t have to go back that far; we don’t even have to look at any of histories’ loftier or colourful characters to see the ‘‘Relay’’ in action. All we have to do is take a look at our own lives.
You and I have accepted the baton from our parents and are running our own respective races with either the blessings bestowed or baggage foisted upon (or in most cases, probably a mixture of both) by virtue of the circumstances surrounding our birth.
It is a contention of mine that one of the few elements of our existence totally beyond our control is our birth. The odds that you or I exist at all are stupendously stacked against us; the fact that the individual that has become ‘me’ writing these words, and the individual that is ‘you’ reading them at all is, in itself, tantamount to miraculous. Nine months before your birth somewhere between 200 and 600 million sperm (to put that number in context, it is up to half the population of India!) were launched on a mission to find one (and only one) fertile egg. One unique union became ‘me’ and another became ‘you’. What if it was another sperm-egg combo? ‘We’ mightn’t be us at all!
Anyhow, this is supposed to be a business, not a history or biology, lesson and so regardless of our beginnings, whether we were raised with a silver spoon in our mouths, or by wooden spoon (see Irish Mammy) and despite our early paradigms – views of the world formed by those early influences (we don’t see the world as it is, but rather we see it as we are) – once we get to the age of maturity, it is my belief that our lives are entirely within our control.
Not that we can control what happens to us – of course we can’t – but we are in full control of how we respond to what happens to us. As Viktor Frankl commented in his wonderful book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ written from his perspective as a survivor of the Nazi Concentration camps, “The last of human freedoms – the ability to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances.”
And once we understand, accept and believe that we are in control of our responses to any given situation or set of circumstances, that we are responsible (response-able), from that moment on we have fully accepted the baton of our lives and we are free to run our race any way we wish until it is time our race is run, and we pass it on.
So, what has this got to do with your business?
Every successful business builds upon something, that has come before, some idea that has been born, oftentimes sparked by the coming together of other ideas, in unique form, a bit like ‘us’.
[ahn-truh-pruh–nur, –noo r; French ahn-truh-pruh–nœr]
- a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.
An entrepreneur usually kick-starts the idea and then, when the time is right, enlists the help of others to allow the idea grow.
And then what happens? In essence she or he passes the baton in part (in the form of multiple batons as tasks or roles) and does so carefully to allow the business the best opportunity to survive and thrive – running too fast can make you trip and stumble and lose the baton, run too slowly and your competition can outpace you. Making a break for the line too early you risk not having enough energy or resources to make it across in a medal position, or even at all.
From the very moment the entrepreneur engages the services of a.n.other, the process has started, the baton is beginning to change hands – the question is when and if the entrepreneur is willing to let go completely or whether she/he wants to always be touching one end of it as the other ‘runner’ carries it – this is what the control freak in all of us wants to do but it’s detrimental to the speed of the organization.
When Carambola (www.carambola.ie) started, I did everything. I made the sandwiches, I packed the lunches, I drove the van, I washed the van, I answered the phone, I met with suppliers, placed the orders and, at least once a day, jumped up and down on top of the rubbish skip to allow us get more capacity in before it was collected and we had to pay. Today I do none of it. I even refuse to answer the phone in the office if it’s ringing – I would sooner allow it ring out than interfere with ‘the system’, sooner miss a call than keep one hand wedded to one end of that baton – someone in Carambola has elected to take the ‘answering the phone’ baton and run with it and it’s important that I let them. If they drop it too often, perhaps they need training, or perhaps (in some cases this has been true over the years in various roles and with various tasks) they are fundamentally wrong for the role in this race at this time and they must change positions or go.
It can be a scary thing letting go of the baton. And you can ‘feck it up’ by passing it over badly, or by choosing the wrong ‘Relay’ partner for the particular baton you are passing, but what’s the alternative? Hold all of them yourself? If you do, they’ll probably all get handled – perhaps badly because you are holding too many – but at what cost? The bigger risk, in my opinion, is scale and pace of the organisation.
I said recently that your business can never outgrow you and it’s true. If your business is stagnant at present, might the problem be the Man (or woman) in the Mirror?
There can be many batons in a business; sales, production, marketing, finance, legal, admin, customer care, IT, logistics, facilities, hr, etc. The Solopreneur gets to do all of them ad infinitum, the sensible entrepreneur attracts others to the cause and then empowers them to get on with it, maintaining a watchful supportive eye on progress and offering assistance where necessary.
And finally, if you never learn to pass off the many batons in the running of your business, fully, to competent people (people perhaps even better than you, shock, horror, sharp intake of breath at various tasks in the organization), how in God’s name are you going to exit when you’ve run your race, when it’s time to hang up the running shoes, when you want to enjoy the race from the VIP section in the terraces?
Your business is like a ‘Relay’race – try not to ‘feck it up’.
Worth considering, methinks.
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Thanks for thinking with me.