I walked into the C-suite to have my first meeting with the ‘new boss’ after I had just been promoted to my first ‘executive-level’ director position. Without wasting any time with many pleasantries, he asked, “Who in your group can do what you do?”
I answered honestly and somewhat confused, “Well, no one.” Thinking to myself, ‘isn’t that why you promoted me?’
With his next question, I was able to start predicting where he was going with the conversation, “Who’s got the most potential to do what you do, and when can they be ready?”
(Pausing the story) Let’s be real here. This was not the tone or topic I was looking forward to. I was wondering where the lavish praises over my journey and promotion were. I just made ‘Director’! I thought there was some boondoggle or something when you got to that level. But in my first meeting after the big promotion, I felt interrogated over a successor when I just succeeded.
Okay, pity party over, back to the C-Suite conversation.
My boss expounded on the line of questioning, “Jared, the first time I was ever up for Senior VP, I was a shoo-in. I was outperforming any of my counterparts; I worked tirelessly and knew the business. I thought I was the clear choice. The day came when my boss let me know I wasn’t getting the SVP role because even though I had performed at a high level, I had not prepared anyone to replace the vacancy I would leave if I got promoted.”
Then my boss drove it home with a simple statement, “If you don’t start getting someone ready to take your place, there are no more places for you to go because we’re going to need you right where you’re at. Don’t make the same mistake I did.”
Patrick Lencioni in his most recent book, The Motive, brilliantly highlights what the actual motive of successful executives should be. Without spoiling an outstanding read from Lencioni, my boss was on the same wavelength as you will find in The Motive; and many other great leadership reads also.
Make no mistake, the best leaders not only focus on the business (revenue, operations, customers, risk, etc.), they are considering how the business can move forward with as much or even greater success without them being a part of it. That takes people, not just decisions. Seems counter to your instinct, correct? It is easy to drift into the desire of wanting to be irreplaceable. Don’t do it. You may have insecurities about surrounding yourself with a team of people that could replace you; get over those thoughts because it’s a trap that stunts growth. This is a great place to familiarize yourself or review the Steve Jobs quote from his book about hiring smart people: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do, we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
And if you are already there, like I was when I had that first meeting with my C-suite boss, get out of that mindset quickly. Being irreplaceable managers or directors doesn’t make us great leaders; however, it does solidify us as sub-standard people developers.
So, the next thing you need to figure out on this journey is “who’s next, and when can they be ready?”
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