Hey Leader: You’re Not Indispensable

The March 21 edition of the CBS show “60 Minutes” included an interview with Rahm Emanuel, current White House Chief of Staff.  Part of the conversation was a discussion of how he prepared himself for his new role.

WD-40 and Duct Tape

Emanuel shared that during the post-election transition, he met with thirteen former chiefs of staff to seek their input and advice on how to be the most effective and successful filling that position. Emanuel specifically mentioned the advice he was given by Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld has held many leadership roles in government; one of those was as Chief of Staff during part of Gerald Ford‘s presidency.

Based on the fact that no White House Chief of Staff has ever remained in that role for an entire presidential term, Rumsfeld said:

“You’re not indispensable. Choose your successor early on.”

Imagine being told, before you even start a new position, that you should choose your successor! That’s right, you are not WD-40 or duct tape. You’re human.

Rumsfeld was actually giving good advice for all of us in leadership roles. It’s not easy.  There are many demands coming from many places. And, you are not the only person who will ever do the job. You may decide at a certain point to move on. Or, you might be so successful that you will be developed for another position.

In either scenario, who will take your place?

Part of being a leader means that you have a commitment to develop your people. And, one of those people may be that person who eventually take over your current responsibilities. Knowing that, we should be selecting our successor early on, freely sharing everything we know, helping them prepare for their next position. As Steve Farber put it in his leadership classic “Greater Than Yourself,”

…the goal of true leadership is to help others – teammates, employees, and colleagues – become more capable, confident, and accomplished than their leaders.

Pepperdine University’s Graziado Business Report titled “Choose Tomorrow’s Leaders Today,” reminds us that while succession planning is most often discussed relative to executive level positions, it really applies to all leadership positions. It’s about preparing the right person with the right skills to be able to step in to the right position at the right time. What can be tricky, especially in today’s rapidly changing business environment, is developing people for positions that may not even exist today.

The report suggests these best practices for succession planning:

  • Companies should develop and deploy a succession management process as part of their overall business strategy
  • A successful program includes Human Resources experts for tools and process, business units handling their own staff management, and technology to facilitate the process
  • continous process to identify talent and focus on future leadership and related competencies
  • Future leaders are actively engaged in the process of their own development
  • Fundamental coaching, training and development activities occur regularly
  • The overall program and individual’s progress is regularly monitored and assessed

Does your company have a solid succession plan?  If so, how does it measure up to these recommendations?

Keeping in mind Rumsfeld’s words, “You’re not indispensable,” have you chosen your successor?  Would you share with us your best practices for developing that person?


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Eleanor Biddulph
Eleanor Biddulph
 is the EVP of Client Services at Progressive Medical, Inc.
Email | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook | Blog

Image Sources: home.comcast.net, greaterthanyourself.com

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