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Sending It Forward

Successfully transitioning out of the CEO role

One of the most exciting athletic events in the Summer Olympics is the 4x100-meter relay race. The event, which was inspired by ancient Greek couriers handing off a “message stick” to one another, was introduced at the Stockholm Olympics in 1912. For the entirety of the 20th century, the United States team dominated the sport. Not once in the 21st century, however, has the US team brought home a gold medal, despite many of its members having done so in their individual events.

What' the problem? Simple: bad handoffs. Consider New York magazine's description of one such handoff at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics: "As the pair attempted to pass the baton, they looked more like Keystone Cops than two of the five fastest men in the world."1 As a result, the team failed to even advance to the final. On the other hand, when well-synchronized handoffs happen, relay times are typically two to three seconds faster than the sum of the best times of individual runners.

When you're a celebrated CEO who has successfully led a company through multiple cycles of performance improvement, it’s hard to imagine looking like a Keystone Cop at the end of your career as you pass the baton. Yet, as the transition gets closer, the reality that you’ve never actually done a CEO handover before can feel daunting. Unlike Olympic athletes who practice the timing, pacing, technique, and communication over and over with the grandstands empty—you’ll only have one very public shot at it, and you’ll be doing so while under emotional strain. As Caterpillar's former CEO Jim Owens puts it: "In the end, the hardest part of the CEO role is leaving."

Please select this link to read the complete article from McKinsey & Company.

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