The Best Leaders Are Expendable
A good leader makes herself essential by creating a team of people who can get the day-to-day work done without her
As leaders, sometimes managing our egos is one of the toughest challenges we face. It’s something that, when not checked, is most likely to get us into trouble as well.
One of my favorite lessons about leadership comes from the Tao Te Ching:
“When the Master governs, the people are hardly aware that he exists… When his work is done, the people say, “Amazing: we did it, all by ourselves!”
But does this mean that as the leader of your team, you should make yourself inessential? Well, not quite.
I recently spoke to a friend who was the CEO of a well-respected charitable organization doing vital work in a remote rural county of the U.K. Budget cuts at the local authority, on whom they relied for most of their funding, reduced their contribution by 50%. By some miracle, this CEO was able to keep the doors open, providing a bare-bones service to the people who needed it most. One of the ways she was able to do this was by making herself redundant.
She confided that although she was glad that her work was kept alive, she was struggling with accepting that they were able to get along without her. She felt this conflict because she had worked so incredibly hard to prepare her team for this very day.
She accepted that it was good to see her team succeed autonomously, but of course emotionally it was still hard for her to feel unnecessary. Even knowing the service would otherwise have had to shut down only went so far in soothing her bruised ego.
A leader who can be fearlessly vulnerable can create effective and capable teams without resorting to heavy-handed, labor-intensive micro-management.
Feeling needed, feeling essential, is a powerful potion for most of us. When your job involves making sure people in need get the services they rely on, or driving the function that makes your stakeholders happy with big dividends, it’s easy to believe you are the lynchpin that makes it all possible.