A sign of a great leader is when their team doesn’t need him or her. Essentially, excellent leaders make themselves expendable. If that doesn’t make any sense, then let’s dive deeper into this.
The adversary of productivity
Let’s start first with what you don’t want to be. You’ve seen and heard it countless times in the office: “To make sure you’re never fired, make yourself indispensable.” Maybe it worked for you as you started climbing the corporate ladder, creating that job security you wanted.
But now you’re higher up in the pecking order and managing a team of people; if you retain the same mindset, you’ll tend to look for more ways to become indispensable. That means you’ll be making sure that every single thing needs your approval; no one can lift a finger without your go-signal.
It’s inefficient, counterproductive, and worst of all, you become a micromanager.
Everybody hates micromanaging. It’s the adversary of productivity. If this sounds like you, do yourself and your team a favour: resist the temptation to have this self-centred mindset and get rid of it as soon as you can. As a leader, it’s one of the most toxic traits you can have.
It’s tempting to always be the one that has the final say and to have control over the whole thing. However, the tell-tale sign of a poor leader is that they’re constantly insecure about their position, that’s why they’re always trying to gain more control over their team.
It’s time to let go. Learn to manage this feeling of self-importance. Your ego is your enemy.
The expendable leader
Once you come to terms with the idea that your team can (and should!) function without you, that’s when the expendable leader starts to shine through.
The expendable leader is the backstage manager: the person that makes sure everything goes smoothly in the background and is rarely (if ever) in the spotlight so that other members can shine.
Your role as an expendable leader is to be invisible; it’s about bringing out the best in your team members and making them important instead of yourself. It’s this strategy that creates the highest-performing teams that need minimal supervision from management. Here’s how it’s done.
Many of us are used to conventional top-down leadership, where upper management dictates everything down the chain of command. This is the realm of the micromanager. They can exert complete control over their team by selectively controlling the flow of information, fuelling petty office politicking and creating an overall toxic work environment.
Expendable leaders seek to challenge this idea. Instead of thinking of themselves at the helm and making themselves indispensable to the team’s function, expendable leaders ensure that it’s the team members themselves that are indispensable.
To do this requires a paradigm shift, a new way of doing things called bottom-up leadership. The core of this leadership style is in empowering every team member, providing guidance and mentorship to help them become better.
Empowering your team requires loosening the reins of power and handing it to them. Give them the autonomy to make their own decisions. Let them know they’re important and trusted enough to call the shots, giving them ownership of their successes and failures.
The reason why expendable leaders prefer this type of leadership is because it encourages a growth mindset. This allows team members to develop and hone their skill sets to grow into better versions of themselves, instead of being held back by their past performance.
Bottom-up leadership is a very powerful tool for the expendable leader. It provides the framework for your team to think and act independently even without close supervision, creating the self-confidence they need to explore new things and innovate.
It’s expendable leaders that create a culture of excellence that produces excellent teams.
Creating future leaders, not followers
Micromanagers love followers, yes-men who will cater to their every beck and call.
On the other hand, expendable leaders don’t train others to be followers; they transform others to be future leaders.
This is the key difference: while the micromanager thinks of his/her own survival over the short-term, expendable leaders look at the bigger picture over the long term.
Expendable leaders look out for the collective good of the team and company, even if that means that the best person for the job isn’t them. They’re constantly thinking about who’s the best candidate to replace them and grooming those people to take on the responsibility one day. And they’re comfortable with being expendable.
Expendable leadership is about creating an environment that breeds future leaders. Instead of being threatened by the younger generation, expendable leaders mentor and guide them along their professional journey.
Leaders that care first and foremost about their team members’ growth, creating the environment for them to succeed, and being comfortable about being replaced are what separates expendable leaders apart, the hallmarks of an excellent leader.
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