I lead a team of experts at work and making myself replaceable is the one thing that has given me the most personal satisfaction and has led to a rapid acceleration in my career advancement.
At first, growing my team and empowering them to solve problems without me was a little uncomfortable, because I felt like I was losing control and would not be as valuable to my business if others could do my job. In fact, nothing could have been further from the truth.
In spite of my reservations at the outset, I was always transparent with my team and I didn’t hold back any knowledge. I had some fear about being replaced, perhaps, but it wasn’t within my personality to withhold knowledge that would allow other people to succeed.
I quickly got over the fear of divulging too much of my secret sauce, and I learned that the sauce was not so secret after all. My team members could do my job just as well and often better than I could.
I am extremely fortunate to work with some incredibly intelligent and talented folks. They make me look bad!
Having made myself replaceable, I took in just how much our execution for the business had improved. Not only that, I could step away and trust my colleagues to complete projects with a high level of skill and professionalism.
As a result, not only was I not replaced, I was promoted!
Apparently, when you share your knowledge and empower others, you become increasingly promotable!
I was promoted because making myself replaceable was the most valuable contribution I’d made to the business up to that point. Sure, I’d executed well many times in the past, but becoming replaceable meant so much more.
I learned the following lesson:
You haven’t created sufficient value for the business if it can be harmed by your absence.
One reason for the enormous value in making yourself replaceable is your team’s improved ability to meet business needs by sheer force of numbers. Two people with your knowledge can do much more than the one you, and if you’re unwilling to share what you know, you are not allowing for this growth in your business to occur.
If you don’t allow your team members to get to the next level, even if that’s your level, you’re not going to be able to move up yourself, because you’ll always be holding on to a piece of each of your team member’s projects, perhaps fearing to let go.
You need to fairly evaluate when someone is ready for you to give them full ownership of a role. After you do that, you should help when asked, and offer assistance once in a while if you think it may be necessary, but don’t hover. Let your other teammates learn to handle the same responsibility that you handle.
They very well may be better at it than you are, which is a good thing, because now you’ve scaled up and can do more projects more efficiently, and can learn from sharing knowledge with each other!
And when you leave the office, for whatever reason, it will be business as usual, and no harm will come to your company through your absence. You will be leaving both your team and your company in better shape, and knowing that you’ve done so will provide immeasurable personal satisfaction and pride.
I got to this point by sharing my experience in the most transparent manner I could to empower those around me.
I don’t play any hide the ball and I’m happy to make myself completely replaceable.
Currently, I’m working on making myself even more replaceable by creating and maintaining a database of all the previous solutions I’ve come up with and others have come up with so that my coworkers can pull the data they need to address recurring problems quickly and efficiently, without having to ask me directly. This will take me even further out of the equation!
I often joke that things at work run more smoothly when I’m out of the office. This would be all the more true if I were an over-involved manager, which I’m not, but I’ve seen it time and time again: there’s a limit to how many cooks you can have in the kitchen at one time and succeed at producing a good stew.
In other words, you also improve efficiency by removing yourself and letting others have more autonomy.
Making yourself replaceable also makes the business more valuable for potential purchasers, increasing saleabilty. Whatever your business is, if it can’t run with you, it isn’t as saleable as it would be if it could run smoothly with you gone. If the systems aren’t in place for the business to succeed after you are bought out, you are much less likely to have buyers bid on your business.
Also, once you take an approach of empowering rather than managing, you will be able to innovate and shift into new roles. You can’t begin to explore those roles if you don’t let go of your current one.
The fact is that if you can’t be replaced, you can’t be promoted, because you will be required to stay in your current role for the business to function.
So stop hiding the ball or fearing letting go. Instead, empower others by being an open and helpful book (I had to reference the image, I just had to) and move to the next level.
You will have created the most value for your business if it will survive and thrive even in your absence.