Lessons from Relays

By Not Known

The memorable Rio Olympics had come and gone.  It was made more memorable because our nation took home a gold.  But for me, it was even more memorable when I watched the 4x100m relay races.  I remembered this event well; for as a school boy, the memory when we set the combined schools record cannot be erased.  Still, we almost did not make it because of our baton passing.

As in any relay, it is not how fast each runner could run but more how the handover took place.  This year, the Japanese team won the silver not because they had great record times but their handover was just superb and faultless.

Any relay runner would know that we would have lost if we mistimed our handover or simply dropped the baton.  It makes or breaks the race.
As it was said, “It is in times of transition that we are most vulnerable.”  Like the US ladies team who dropped the baton and disqualified themselves, it was disastrous.  Yet, what could be so difficult about passing a 30cm long cylindrical (often called a stick) to another skilled athlete?  Someone once said that the baton exchange is similar to “two container ships passing each other at night, but if the ocean were the size of a phone booth.”

These were lessons I had learnt a long time ago.
1.    Clear Communication.  In order to pass the baton perfectly, once we closed the gap within passing distance, the approaching runner must give a clear signal.  At that signal, the receiver stretches out his hand and the baton will be exactly at the receiving palm.  He would grab it and off he went.  Clear and key words must be uttered and heard for the transfer to take place.

2.    Timing.  Beside synchronising our arms movement, we had also to synchronise our speed.  The receiver needed to take off at a predetermined mark matching the speed of the approaching runner.  The countless times we practiced this were simply unbelievable.  Each time, we ran flat out to stimulate the actual race.  The timing had to be perfect, the pace of the oncoming athlete and the distance needed to gain speed for the receiver had to be worked out to the last nano-second.  Each step was planned, there must be no mistake.

3.    Firm grip.  For the baton to exchange hands perfectly: the time to let go and the firmness of gripping the baton had to be practiced numerous times.  The feel of the baton had to be right.  If one let go too soon before the firm grip of the baton it would lead to fumbling and even to dropping the stick.  In which case, it would mean losing precious seconds or disqualification from the race.

These three characteristics for a perfect transition is also critical to the transfer of leadership.  Often, fuzzy communication leads the organisation to distrust, frustrations and discouragement.  Poor timing too leaves gaps and poor follow-through to well-intentioned plans.  Letting go too soon or grabbing control too early also direct organisations to fault-lines and misunderstanding.

Good leadership is simply critical in ensuring that leadership transition takes place smoothly and in line with the goals and mission of the organisation.  Let us continue to support our Session and pray for good transition to take place for our leadership team.


Peter Poon