Leadership for Life – Everyone’s Replaceable

By on January 15, 2015
Everyone’s Replaceable

Our Leadership experts will be sharing tips and insights for everyone, at any station in life, at both home and work. Leadership for Life – the skills you embrace represent who you really are at all times.

Do you ever think about what your organization would be like if you weren’t there? “This place would fall apart without me!” The sad truth is that everyone is replaceable. People retire, get sick, quit, get fired … and yet the organization goes on. Sure, it might change to a greater or lesser degree, but when people (even you) go away, the organization goes on. (Some people work very hard to make themselves irreplaceable. Some succeed, but they don’t go very far in their organization. After all, if you’re irreplaceable in your current job, why would anyone want to promote you?)

Being a leader requires some degree of self esteem – some would call it ego, others would call it hubris. Whatever you call it, a leader has to believe in him/herself, has to be able to influence others to follow. That degree of self esteem or self confidence needs to be enough to drive the organization to meet its mission without driving it beyond ethical bounds. Ego and hubris have led to major downfalls (Enron, Adelphia, Lehman Bros., etc.), while strong self confidence has led organizations to great success (Starbucks, Southwest Airlines, Apple, Microsoft, etc.).

Most of us want to maintain a certain degree of control over the world even beyond our own existence. That’s why we draw up wills. We want to influence how people will remember us after we’re gone, so we think about legacies. How does a leader ensure her/his legacy in an organization? One of the best ways of doing that is to recognize that everyone’s replaceable, and that planning for succession is crucial to keeping an organization going in a more or less straight line after the leader goes away. You can’t guarantee (nor should you want to) that your successor will do everything the way you would do it, but careful selection and mentoring should allow you to succeed in maintaining the organization’s values and integrity regardless of who’s leading it.

Great leaders develop a pipeline that helps to ensure that new leaders will emerge over time to succeed current leaders when they retire or otherwise cut their ties with the organization. When someone decides to “pursue other interests,” you want to be sure there’s someone in the wings who can take over responsibilities as seamlessly as possible. To be sure both you and the potential new leader are making the right choices, the pipeline should be about 3-5 years long. This is usually enough time for both of you to make sure that the right people are in the right places, and that the pipeline is leading candidates along a path they really want to pursue.

Even if you’re not thinking about retiring from your organization, you should be thinking about what would happen if you weren’t there for any reason. After all, everyone’s replaceable.

About Barry Schapiro

Barry is the Workforce Solutions Group Practice Leader for Leadership and Professional Development. His experience includes delivery and management of business training in a variety of industries, with specialties in leadership, team development, generational diversity, and customer service. Twitter

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