Some years ago I worked in a company that underwent a restructuring. Consequently I started to report to another General Manager. As we all would, being in the position, the first thing I did was try and figure out my new manager. What made him tick, what were his expectations, when was the best time to ask for further investment, how he liked his reports and when and so forth. I therefore spent some time getting to know him and started to have a lot of respect for him. I did not always agree but the respect was there for sure. One thing he told me at the beginning of this was to “work myself into a position of being replaceable”. Did I hear this correctly? I asked him to repeat it and elaborate on this (foreign) statement. Although he did, I still left his office being confused.
Why would you put yourself into a position whereby you can be replaced? It just did not make any sense to me. It is actually 180 degrees to what I had always known or thought I had known. Whenever you work for someone or an organisation you work hard and gain knowledge and skills. You should do all you can do to become an export in your role. In order to do this knowledge is not enough and you need to apply this knowledge. Doing this will then surely cause the organisation to be reliant on you. This then is surely a good way to secure yourself a better remuneration or promotion or both. It is also a great way to create job security. When you become an expert in something then surely you will not be at the top of the redundancy list. So why would he be so deluded in taking an approach which is the opposite to all of this.
A little later I was asked to complete a skills analysis on someone in our Polish Distributor. I thought him to be very capable and sent my report. To my surprise, I then heard that they had made this person redundant. It was not because of his skills, nor his knowledge but rather he had become an information silo. The third party company felt that he had therefore become a risk to the organisation and one they took drastic action to resolve. They just could not be that reliant on one individual that was not willing to share. It was then that I started to understand the comment “work myself into a position of being replaceable”.
What my manager was trying to say was that what I thought the right approach was, was in actual fact harmful and very inward looking. Please don’t misunderstand me. What I am not saying is that it is wrong to be knowledgeable and perhaps have specialised knowledge. Nor am I saying that you should not be skilled. It is not what we have or who we are but rather what we do with it that is the key. Working myself into a position of replace-ability means that I cannot be an information silo but rather be outward looking. Looking out for others. With this new understanding I started to take an entirely different approach and found that I became a much more versatile person in the process. What I found this did was as follows:
I was not just looking after myself all the time but rather did what is the right thing to do for the team and the organisation. The two are not always compatible!
I therefore became much more aware of situation and challenges within the organisation. I could not help but think about some of them and at times (in a careful) manner suggested ideas to the people who could affect that particular challenge the most. This was not done in a self seeking way but rather from a desire just to help out. What I found over time is that people, at times, sought me out for ideas. At other times I was invited to meeting to be a good sounding board.
“You can have everything in life that you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.” – Zig Ziglar
I also became a much better team player – not just within my own team but also within the larger organisation as a whole. I was a team leader at the time, but it was the quickest way to be promoted and for one of my team to fill the position that I would soon leave behind. As a team leader and working myself into the position of replace-ability meant that I was recognised for not only my skill and knowledge by more importantly for the attitude I had. I could have been so fixated by defending my position as team leader at the time that I would not have been recognised for my potential. By taking this approach I only increased me potential. It also created a great atmosphere and companionship within the team. Some of my team were also recognised for their potential as they were given the room and encouragement to grow.
I also recognised that my new manger had climbed the corporate ladder so quickly by taking this very approach. For me I learned the importance of helping others.