How To Be Replaceable

Are you irreplaceable? If you are, you aren’t doing your job as a leader.

The job of a leader isn’t to be everywhere all the time, solving every problem, and coming up with every solution. Instead a leader must empower their people, so that when you do need to be replaced, say for a vacation or eventually even retirement, it can be done as seamlessly as possible. So how do make yourself replaceable?

Provide formal training for your employees: Despite the numerous opportunities for learning outside the office, such as online classes or Communities of Practice, formal training is not dead. It is important to take time to educate your employees on the topics that are most critical to running your organization. That includes not just what you do, but how you do it. So for example, if you sell widgets, you don’t want to just teach employees about the great features of your widgets, but also how you sell those widgets and what the client experience should be like. Then there are also topics that are critical to running any enterprise, like what it means to be a manager at your organization.

Take an employee (or two) under your wing: Never underestimate the value of shadowing, whether a formal apprenticeship or a more informal mentorship. This gives your employees the opportunity to see your role first hand and how you handle certain situations (even if that isn’t always successfully). A lot can be learned from observation, so bring high-performing junior employees to the “table” – to engagements with clients, financial meetings, conferences, etc. After each of these experiences, take a moment to discuss what took place and why. Ask them for their opinions of the situation, what they learned or were surprised by, and what they would have done. These conversations will help your employees to further comprehend and cement the experience.

Give up the reins: I have often said, and will likely say again, there is no substitution for experience. There are very few people in the world who can listen to a piece of music and then play it back flawlessly on the first try. Learning and mastery take practice. This requires us to delegate some of our tasks to our employees. Delegation can be hard, either because you feel guilty giving someone else work that is “yours” or because you feel that no one else can do it like you can, but neither of these reasons are productive. They won’t help you and they certainly won’t help your employees. If you are concerned about the former, well unfortunately no leader has the capacity to do all of the work they are given. It is about prioritization and recognition that you can’t do it all, which is why you have a team to begin with. If you are concerned about the latter, start your employee with a small, manageable task and work them up to something larger as they build your trust. Keep in mind this shouldn’t take years. If you find yourself unable to give your employee more challenging work, either they are failing as an employee or you are failing as a leader – it’s time to reevaluate.

Becoming a great leader isn’t about having secret skills that no one else has. You didn’t become a leader, because you never took a day off and learned everything instantly. You became a leader because someone took the time to show you the way, to teach you, to let you try. Yes, you could have failed – that is one of the many calculated risks leaders have to take – but it is with these experiences that you became the great leader you are today. So make yourself a bit more replaceable, and start preparing the leaders of tomorrow.


What I’m reading now: Training Leaders

Practicing anything mildly important, like say skiing or golf, without training is inadvisable. The fact that so many of your managers are practicing leadership without training should alarm you.