A collision on the soccer field didn’t just shatter my ankle—it shattered the myth of my own importance.
As paramedics hastily carried me off of the field on a stretcher last month, my frantic mind was racing. It seemed like my accident couldn’t have come at a worse time. In only 12 hours, I was scheduled to be on a plane to Dallas, then Houston, then Raleigh. A few days later, I was slated to deliver a talk in Santa Barbara, and then Orange County. With my ankle precariously bent at an angle that the human ankle was never designed to bend, it was instantaneously clear that I was going to miss our largest events of the year.
“Will we have to cancel the events?” I wondered.
Before I had even been discharged from the hospital, my colleagues and friends began responding with thoughtful action. Within a matter of hours, my flights had been canceled, and plans had been set in motion for team members to step in and take my place at each event. With grace and incredible speed, these friends deftly agreed to cover all of my responsibilities.
As the following weeks of events unfolded, while I kept my ankle elevated on the couch, the results exceeded previous years’. Both HOPE International and the rest of the world kept on spinning.
After one event, I received a text that read, “Of course you were missed by those of us who have a personal love for you and your family, but it was evident this morning that others can equally do the job.” In other words, We missed you. But everything went beautifully without you.
Listening to the response from those in attendance at each event, it’s clear that my colleagues didn’t simply do the job; they knocked it out of the park.
My injury turned into one of the most freeing moments of my time at HOPE. I know that our mission would undoubtedly carry on with excellence when the time comes for my transition.
I believe it’s a high compliment a leader could ever receive in the midst of a transition would be if everyone—employees, outgoing CEO, incoming CEO, management, and clients—all thought, This isn’t such a big deal.
Healthy organizations refuse to become dependent on any one person. They build teams with multiple people who are each ready to step up at any moment.
My guess is that, due to a perilous cocktail of pride and lack of planning, few organizations are well-prepared for a leader’s transition. In fact, a 2011 study by CompassPoint reports that “just 17% of organizations have a documented succession plan.” It takes courage and humility for leaders to prepare for the moment when they transition, to ensure that, in a way, their absence is not felt.
Perhaps part of the reason that we don’t plan for what comes next is that we like to be needed. The idea that we are somehow indispensable to the mission feels good. Yet it is critical that we grapple with the fact that placing our egos over the mission inevitably sabotages long-term organizational impact.
If we deeply care about the mission of our organization, we will care deeply about what will happen when we’re suddenly out of the game. Perhaps one of the healthiest things we could do as leaders would be to shatter the illusion of our own importance.
(And to my coworkers, I hope to continue serving with you for years to come . . . but when it’s time to transition, there is no question in my mind that HOPE’s mission will continue! What an honor it is to serve with you.)