Replacing Yourself

Sep 08, 2023

I was working on the annual review for one of the members of my team and came to the paragraph section on focus for the upcoming year. As I pondered the list, an overarching theme emerged: preparing my replacement.

Let me first say that it's my current plan to serve as the Chief Strategy Officer for Ag Partners Cooperative, Inc as long as they'll have me. However, there will come a day when it makes sense for me to move into a new position or simply step aside for one of the more talented members of our team. Such transitions on the org chart create opportunities for others, and when internal promotions occur, the cascade continues. The process of making this happen inspired my thoughts this week on replacing yourself.

Everything I've listed will happen in the future, but for today, I occupy my position because of a combination of work ethic, experience, and the ability to see opportunities. My role is to merge what I've learned with the talents of my successor. If you supervise others, you share these responsibilities. Now, let's explore the three essential elements to make this transition successful.

Firstly, you must be willing to learn, or as I like to call it, "borrow their diploma." If you aspire to career development, you must be open to receiving feedback graciously. If you're not ready and willing to learn, you've reached your peak. Receiving feedback can be challenging. In my case, if I believe in your potential, I'll provide ample feedback. For instance, kassie pechanec once jokingly remarked that "she was waiting to present just so that Jed could tear it apart" before giving her final intern presentation. Throughout the summer, I consistently provided feedback on almost every project, and she handled it exceptionally well. She asked clarifying questions and effectively incorporated the critiques I provided. She honed her abilities and is now applying them as she pursues her master's degree. You might wonder if she aspires to lead sales and strategy someday. I don't believe that's her ambition, but that doesn't diminish the value of learning from every leader's experience. Whatever path she chooses, it will demand the integration of her hard work, experience, and unique talents for success. Borrowing from my catalog of successes and failures accelerates her journey.

Secondly, you must be willing to share your diploma. If you're in a leadership role and you refrain from investing in your team out of fear that it will diminish your importance, then you're not truly leading. In my opinion, great leaders are force multipliers. They develop others and thereby amplify their abilities. These are the individuals I seek to promote. Luke 16:10 reminds us that "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much." When you're placed in a supervisory or leadership position, you're entrusted with the development of your team. Neglecting to share your knowledge and nurture your successor is a breach of that trust. It will also ensure that when an opportunity for your own promotion arises, there won't be a suitable replacement, hindering your advancement. Ironically, this means you'll get part of what you desired.

Lastly, patience is crucial. Acquiring and transferring experience takes time. I gained insights into inventory management from owning and operating restaurants (where materials go bad within a week). I learned the value of preparation and research through purchasing, remodeling, and selling houses (insufficient research into a home resulted in me losing thousands of dollars along with my time and energy). I learned the significance of workplace culture in a previous role. I witnessed employees offering solutions and ideas for success, only to be thwarted by office employees who didn't want to admit the source of the solution. Later, those same employees successfully implemented these suggestions elsewhere. PRO TIP - These lessons resonate with the wisdom found in the book of Proverbs, though I didn't fully comprehend them at the time. The point is, accumulating this experience took years, and there are still more lessons to learn. I rely on leaders sharing their experiences with me as I strive to pass on what I've learned to my team.

This leads me to this week's challenge: reflect on your efforts to prepare for your eventual replacement. If you aspire to new roles in the future, take deliberate steps to seek feedback from your supervisors on how to attain them. If you're in a leadership position, proactively engage with your team members to create individual development plans. Avoid paying lip service to this process; schedule regular reviews to ensure progress. Regardless of your current role, remain focused on preparing for the next step and ensuring someone is ready to step into your shoes.

I’m thankful that you were willing to go to work today, that you took the time to read this, and for being a part of what makes the world fantastic!