Q&A: How Can I Replace Myself Well?
As I think about raising up new leaders, my question involves succession. How can I replace myself well?
[from the 2020 Blog Survey]
First, kudos to you for being willing to ask this question. As leaders, we’re always tempted to believe that if we replace ourselves, we’ll be out of a job. But as Todd Adkins often says, “No one ever got fired for raising up rock stars.”
Replacing yourself doesn’t necessarily mean firing yourself or retiring early. Rather, you’re equipping the saints for the work of the ministry, raising up new leaders so you can expand your own leadership in different directions.
Here are seven ways to replace yourself well:
1. Know who’s in front of you.
There are two crucial pitfalls in replacing yourself: one is to turn a blind eye to the obvious choices (because you’re not looking), the other is to hastily throw someone in a position of leadership (because you haven’t been looking and now you’re desperate). Better to always have someone in the queue, someone you’re investing in…and those someones are often right in front of you.
2. Put your cards on the table.
When you’re considering handing off more responsibility to someone, let them know as soon as is practically possible. Have a sit down. Tell them what it would involve. Give them plenty of time to ask questions, pray, seek counsel, etc. And keep those communication lines open as things progress or change. Nothing good ever comes from a bait and switch.
3. Let them dip a toe before diving in.
Don’t ask for a two year commitment when two weeks will do. At this point, they need to assess the responsibility and you need to assess their capability. Give a specific, short time commitment, and build in panic buttons and get-out-of-jail-free cards.
4. Invite other leaders to speak in.
Let’s face it: if you like someone enough to give them an expanded role, you might have blind spots when it comes to their character, competency, and chemistry. So ask other leaders – staff and volunteer – to weigh in on your assessment. Ask them to watch the person in the role and give you feedback.
5. Communicate the handoff to others.
One of the quickest ways to sabotage a new leader is to change their role without communicating the change to those they’ll be leading. If you’ve previously been leading the team, this will require the delicate dance of knowing how long is too long to stay in hover mode vs. how short is too short for them to process the information and prepare for the change.
6. Critique in the locker room, coach on the field…
…but do not throw on a uniform. I can’t stress this one enough. You will cripple a new leader’s confidence in their role and their relationship with you if you correct them in public or swoop in to save the day. (Ask me how I know.)
7. Give responsibility with authority.
Finally, don’t ever give someone a new responsibility without also handing them the authority to match. An empty title isn’t good for the leader, those they are leading, or for you. If you can trust them with the role, you should trust them with the (keys / budget / spending authority / fill in the blank).
How are you currently working to replace yourself?