The Transition Zone

“People will stop just because they are dead tired. You got to do that extra one - That’s when you improve.” - Usain Bolt

Picture the most stressful part of a relay race, the one that determines whether your team finishes well or tumbles out of the race. That one moment in time - the exchange of the baton - actually includes a series of events necessary for a smooth and speedy transition between athletes.

The end of a term is a time for celebration, but - in the spirit of Usain Bolt’s quote above - a clean handoff requires a little extra effort before it’s time to rest. Student leaders “pass the baton” to their successors by setting expectations, building skills, and preparing for what comes next through meetings, training, handoffs, and ceremonies. Here are three essential components that need to take place in the handoff process.

Entering the Transition Zone

The first part to a successful handoff takes place when the new runner enters the changeover box - this is the 10 meter stretch that extends on either side of the starting line. The outgoing runner starts to make a final push and begins communicating with their teammate as they enter this zone.

The predecessor signals the new runner to start moving. Similarly, new officers are at the starting line looking for cues to move. They might not inherently know when or how to spring into action, so it’s up to the outgoing officer to communicate expectations, deadlines, and tasks ahead. This extra effort helps new officers build momentum before taking office.

The Blind Handoff

There is a special moment during a race where both runners are moving near full speed while exchanging the baton. I would argue this is the most crucial moment for handoff success, and it’s controlled entirely by the incoming runner. In order to continually build as much momentum and speed as possible, the outgoing runner never looks back. They rely on their teammate to guide the baton safely into their hands.

Similarly, new leaders can focus on building on their leadership foundations while outgoing officers maintain operational control until they are up to speed. This practice decreases organizational ‘down time’ and allows the new team to look forward and focus on the task ahead of them.

The Break Away

“When you run a part of the relay and pass on the baton, there is no sense of unfinished business in your mind. There is just the sense of having done your part to the best of your ability. That is it. The hope is to pass on the baton to somebody who will run faster and run a better marathon.” N. R. Narayana Murthy

Once a the new runner has the stick firmly in their grasp, it is time for them to break away and leave the changeover box. Those just finishing their leg step back, take a breath, grab water, and reflect on their performance while the next runner is running their race.

Breaking away brings the opportunity for new officers to problem solve on their own. It’s important for outgoing officers to reflect on and revisit their terms once the transition is complete; this provides a holistic picture of what went well and what could be improved next time. New leaders have the chance to take off down the track of their solo leg, armed with the knowledge of those who came before on how to best work through some - but certainly not all - of the work ahead.

As you can see, there’s more to a transition than handing over files and walking away. Outgoing leaders need to take some additional effort to ensure their successor is prepared to move, fully up to speed, and running their best race.

The New Officer Checklist provides step-by-step instructions and exercises to assist this transition, guiding fraternity and sorority leaders to start out on the right foot in their new position.