Last week I was in meetings discussing organization development and strategy with leaders in two different organizations. One of these is typically corporate (hierarchical, somewhat financially driven, slow to change) while the other is a Christian ministry (fairly flat structure, impact driven, entrepreneurial). The leaders I met with were both relatively senior in the organization, but not at the very top. I describe both as among the most visionary and capable young leaders I know. Something that puts them at the top is their attitude toward developing other people. In short, their attitude is to work themselves out of a job by hiring and developing people who are better than themselves.
Many would see that attitude as form of career suicide. Last week I wrote about Jack who was committing career suicide by following God instead of the smart career move. His facility is closing and instead of moving elsewhere in the company, he is staying where he is to continue to be a servant leader and to allow Jesus to shine through him. Some would call this career suicide.
Some would say that hiring smarter and more effective people, better leaders than yourself, is another form of career suicide. They would ask, “Isn’t it better to be seen as the top dog, one of the most indispensable people to the success of the organization? Isn’t it better to maintain a higher level of knowledge, connections, and power so that other people don’t rise to your level?” I have no doubt that LeadStrategic readers don’t agree with those sentiments, but there are many people who do feel that way.
I was reminded of this sad fact in a news story this week. I normally avoid political subjects in this blog. What I want to share next is not meant to be political—it just happens to be a great illustration of the point. This week it was revealed that President Obama has not sat in on most of his daily security briefings, preferring instead to read written reports on his own. On one hand this makes a little sense. Why put a lot of time into a meeting that can be addressed with a report that can be read a lot faster? On the other hand, this assumes that a written report can effectively substitute for a live conversation with experts. And there is the problem: Of course a written report cannot effectively substitute for the live experts on critically important issues. Anyone who has been at or near the top of an organization knows that verbal reports and conversations with experts are far more effective than written reports.
At the same time this news about President Obama’s security briefings was reported we were also reminded that during the 2008 campaign, candidate Obama told a reporter he felt he was a better speechwriter than his speechwriters, that he knows more about policy than his policy directors, and that he was a better political director than his own political directors. One commentator noted that today, some in the White House say President Obama sees himself as more capable and talented than many of the people around himself. The effect of this is that their followership and loyalty to President Obama is an open question.
My point here is not to disparage President Obama’s leadership style, his politics, or his policies. His comments and those of others are simply a stark contrast to what two other leaders told me this week. Paraphrasing my own conversations, both leaders said they always look for people with better skills and higher leadership talent than their own. They want to see others excel and surpass their own leadership effectiveness. They want to work themselves out of a job.
Why? What is the result of this form of “career suicide”? Well, it’s not suicide at all. It’s life giving. The effect of this kind of leadership is the continued development of their own leadership, more loyal followers, and greater influence at all levels of the organization and outside the organization as well.
Attitude: Work yourself out of a job
Strategy: Hire and develop people who are better than yourself
Outcome: Stronger leadership, more loyal followers, greater influence in and outside the organization
Are you committing this form of career suicide? This is often a very counterintuitive strategy to pursue. When hiring people, you may feel threatened by those who look better than you do. Resist the urge to be afraid of these folks and embrace them as a part of your team. Also, work hard to develop the people currently on your team. Your goal is to raise them to a level beyond yourself.