If you surround with people who are better than you and coach them to eventually take your place, your company won’t crumble after you’re gone — it will only improve.
July 19, 2019 5 min read
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She calls them “5 a.m. wake up calls,” but I prefer to call them “scenario testing.”
Once a month, I make a morning call (not at 5 a.m.) to Scribe’s director of operations and throw a scenario at her. The kind she’d have to handle if she were COO: “You just walked into the office. The co-founders are gone, you can’t get ahold of me, and three people just quit. What do you do?”
The first time I called her, I heard nothing but stunned silence on the other end of the line. She had no idea what to do. And I didn’t blame her. As surprising as it sounds, her response was entirely my fault. She didn’t know what to do in that situation because I never coached her on how to replace me.
Unfortunately, many leaders don’t coach anyone to replace them — and in my view, not coaching their replacement is one of the biggest mistakes they can make.
Have you ever wondered why amazing CEOs, and leaders of all kinds, don’t leave behind amazing CEOs after they leave?
Most leaders want to be the smartest person in the room. They’re afraid to coach people to be better than them. It’s a scarcity mindset that keeps people from teaching their replacement. They think: I’m not going to teach someone how to take my job, that’ll make me replaceable. It’s easier to defend yourself and your position. It’s easier to get lost in the day-to-day operations of your company. It’s easier to address problems as they happen. It’s easy to be reactive.
Beyond that, the real hard truth is that you can’t teach someone to replace you if you don’t know what you do. And frankly, most people probably have no clue what they’re doing. But here’s what some people miss: You don’t grow a company around a single individual. You build it around a team of people, all of whom are smart, capable and well-coached. Otherwise, when that single individual is gone, everything could collapse.
You always want a backup plan in place, and that backup plan is surrounding yourself with people who are capable of doing great things, and that you have coached to be better than you.
That’s the secret to leaving behind amazing leaders: Teach people to do their job and your job so well that they can operate without you. Then they’ll teach the next generation even more. And on it goes… without you.
Many people in corporate America don’t approach it like that. They view the situation from a scarcity mindset: Why would I coach someone to take my job? Here’s my take: If you don’t do that, your company will be built around you, and when you’re gone, it will crumble. Because if you don’t coach your replacement, your company will die with you. And your legacy will begin and end with you. If you surround yourself with people who are better than you and coach them to replace you, your company won’t crumble after you’re gone. It will only improve.
So how do you coach people to replace you?
I ask if they could do their boss’s job.
It’s not enough for me to coach my replacement. I essentially ask people in my company, Scribe, if they could replace their boss. I do this to coach people to think about their jobs the same way: What do they need to learn in order to do their boss’s job? In that way, everyone is constantly learning to be better and, simultaneously, teaching their replacements. That’s another secret: It’s not enough for you to coach your own replacement — you also have to coach others to coach their own replacements. That’s how you create a learning machine in your company, and that’s how you leave behind an unforgettable legacy. It’s why I scenario-test with our director of operations every month — for the day when I ask her if she could be the COO and she says, “Yes.”
After that first scenario-test call, our director of operations and I met in the office. “Could you be COO?” I asked her frankly. “No,” she said. “I would have had no idea what to do in that scenario. How do we hire replacements for those three people?” Now, when I ask her what she’d do if she were COO and three people quit, she knows exactly how she’d handle it.
The best CEOs aren’t interested in being the smartest person in the room. They coach people to be better than they are.