“I’m so good that I’m replaceable……” – I must admit, this headline from a recently published blog on LinkedIn by a C-level executive named Rudolph Rosenberg, really caught my attention.
Mr. Rosenberg’s central question is whether you should “make yourself irreplaceable, center to key processes and sole holder of high value knowledge or should you do the exact opposite and make yourself as replaceable as possible by organizing processes, knowledge and power so that people could wonder if you’re actually needed for things to run smoothly?”
Now that’s a provocative question! For this to make the most sense to me, the implied context for either scenario is that the “you” Mr. Rosenberg is referring to is someone in a leadership position. In the first scenario, it would seem that the conditions would not be sustainable and would have a single source of success OR failure [you], from which no company should purposely rely. In the second scenario, the expectation is that the process which led to you becoming replaceable is a transformation in which you developed systems, expectations and levels of empowerment that allowed the rest of the team to succeed as a result of your leadership.
Caution: Do not make the mistake of equating replaceable with superfluous, disposable or non-essential.
Let’s be clear. Each employee should have a purpose, a clearly defined role, and measurable results. Your contributions are what demonstrate your value back to the company. If the assumption is that the biggest risk for you to become replaceable is being laid off, then the affirmations you should remind yourself of to dissolve those irrational fears is related to your track record, your accomplishments and where else in the organization your talents can be leveraged.
Realistically, in many of today’s organizations, the challenges run deep, whether as a result of prior mismanagement, insufficient resources, acquisitions, shifting industry trends, and so on. It’s not as if an effective leader quickly and miraculously makes changes and no sooner have his/her business cards arrived then they’ve figured out he/she is replaceable. Change management takes time; the point being, leaders aren’t laid off every day for doing such a good job because they’ve become replaceable overnight.
I would challenge myself and others to think about “being replaceable” as a goal rather than a risk. As leaders, we should be trying to figure out how to transform our teams, our company, our industry, so that strategy replaces apathy, efficiency outweighs inefficiency, communication exceeds silos, quality overcomes inaccuracy, and successes surpass failures. If a leader has the self-awareness, strategy and talent to come anywhere near this level of accomplishment to the point where it becomes the norm, then come what may! I’d agree with Mr. Rosenberg that this leader [you] has a mindset and a skillset that could now be put to better use elsewhere – another struggling department, a newly acquired division, an upcoming initiative, a prospective alliance, etc.
Mr. Rosenberg aptly concluded: “…people will be thinking instead of all the great places they can put you in to have you work your magic there. You’ll be leaving behind you a much better environment than the one that was handed to you when you originally took the role.”