Early in my career, I had the advantage of being part of a business-networking group with some older, very experienced business leaders who were able to share with me the secrets of their success.
After one event with this group, a few of us went to grab some drinks and continue the discussion. It was at this social gathering that I gained one of the most important observations about successful leaders.
Doug, who was responsible for leading operations at a company, said that he showed up every day with one simple focus in mind: to make himself irrelevant.
All of us stopped and asked Doug to repeat himself. We wanted to be sure that we heard him right.
We did. He went on to explain that the best way he learned to add value as a leader, to grow at a personal level, while growing members of his team was to have a relentless focus on becoming irrelevant.
“I know my company will always have new challenges for me. My job is to free myself to be available to take on those new challenges. If I’m always mired in doing what I’ve always done, then I’m not truly doing my job as a leader.” Many years later, I’ve come to learn the wisdom in Doug’s words. I’ve tried, whenever possible, to follow his advice.
In my experience, I also find too many leaders don’t work to make themselves irrelevant. Instead, they focus on maintaining an iron grip on as many aspects of their roles as they can.
Many are afraid. Maybe they think, “If I make myself irrelevant, if people can function without me, I won’t have a job any more, or my status in the company will diminish?” These are legitimate feelings.
Ultimately, however, making everyone in your organization wholly dependent on you is not effective over the long term. To make this happen, there are a few things you need to have in place:
First, you need to build the capacity of those around you so that they can do your job if you need to move on to something else. Once they are able to do your job, it can free you up to tackle new challenges and opportunities.
Second, you need to be self-assured. Letting go of something you’ve built and handing it over to others isn’t easy. You need the confidence to believe in yourself and in the fact that your organization will give you new challenges to take on.
Third, you need to be driven by the idea of always finding new ways to create value for your organization. Doing the same job like you’ve done it for years isn’t necessarily the best way to get this accomplished. Don’t settle for the same-old, same-old. Challenge yourself. In the end, if you don’t free yourself to create new value, you never will.
This week’s gut check asks: Do you have the courage to make yourself irrelevant?
The second edition of The Leadership Contract is now available in hardcover and a Kindle edition