My new favourite leadership metaphor from Barack Obama

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to see Barack Obama speak in Melbourne. How’s that for a fun sentence?

For 90min he sat back on a lounge chair riffing, telling stories and sharing wisdom to the 10,000 of us who managed to snaffle a ticket.

Around an hour in he casually mentioned, what is my new favourite leadership metaphor. I’m almost certainly paraphrasing, but here’s how I remember it:

“Leadership is like a relay… you get given the baton having had no control over what’s happened before you, and so all you can do is focus on what’s in front of you. All you can focus on is taking the baton you’ve been given and running your own leg of the race, before passing it on again.”


This strikes me as brilliant for many reasons. At its core I think it speaks to focusing on what we can control as leaders (and not getting stuck on what came before us or what is outside our control), and doing so in a way that we are proud of regardless of all the other runners beside us.

It’s a metaphor I plan on noodling on for weeks and months to come as I consider what metaphorical races I have coming up and how I want to receive the baton and take it forward.