Leadership’s rule: Plan for your own replacement.
In its purest form, leadership is not merely about holding onto power—it’s about preparing for its transfer. As leadership expert John C. Maxwell eloquently expressed, “Leaders become great, not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower others.” Essentially, the core of lasting leadership lies in planning for one’s successor. Comparable to an expert gardener who plants seeds not for their own pleasure but for future generations to enjoy the shade of towering oaks, genuine leaders ready themselves for the moment they must step aside. This concept aligns with the thoughts of esteemed American industrialist Andrew Carnegie, who stated that a great leader does not desire to do everything themselves or receive all the credit for their actions.
First and foremost, when a leader nurtures their successor, they are investing in the organization’s future. Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch posited that success is about personal growth before becoming a leader, but after assuming a leadership role, success is about helping others grow. This is not an abdication of power but rather the ultimate act of empowerment, like a parent teaching their child to ride a bike without training wheels.
Additionally, planning for one’s own replacement fosters a culture of growth and opportunity within the team. As Ratan Tata, former chairman of Tata Group, astutely noted, he does not believe in making the right decisions; instead, he makes decisions and then works to ensure they are right. Adopting this approach illuminates the path for others to follow, nurturing a sense of collective ownership and purpose throughout the organization.
Lastly, this strategy instills a unique form of humility in the leader—recognizing their transience. Legendary basketball coach John Wooden once remarked that success is never permanent, failure is never the end, and it is courage that genuinely matters. By accepting that the sun must set for a new day to dawn, a leader cultivates a mindset of continuous learning and adaptation.
In summary, planning for one’s replacement is a testament to a leader’s strength, foresight, and dedication to collective growth. A true leader’s success is gauged by the accomplishments of those they leave behind, as succinctly stated by American author and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar: “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want”.
To underpin the key points in this message, it’s worth noting the compelling evidence in the form of a real-world success story. Take, for instance, the case of IBM. In 2011, when Ginny Rometty was appointed as CEO, her predecessor, Samuel J. Palmisano, didn’t just step aside but ensured a smooth transition by remaining as chairman for an additional year. This deliberate, planned succession resulted in a seamless transition and continued success for IBM.
Stay curious, stay bold.