The Expendable Leader

When we talk about leadership, we generally focus on various traits and character qualities that make a good leader – and rightly so.

No sane person can argue with the need for courage, honesty, integrity, decisiveness, humility, and other desirable qualities.

But today, I want to underscore something we don’t often address – expendability.

From the highest-level perspective, every leader is ultimately expendable, because to be quite blunt about it, every person (and leader) will eventually die. That’s expendability joined to inevitability! So you can’t win that argument.

But I think every leader should strive to become expendable, well before the last heartbeat. Why? Because (IMO) a leader is there to create something greater than him/herself, something that should be self-sustaining and able to flourish. And that involves cultivating the gifts, skills, and leadership capacities of others in the organization. To the point where other leaders are leading.

From the first step in the door, any leader should be thinking about the last step out the door. We call it succession planning.

Granted, great leadership is not optional, and for a season, a particular leader will either seem or be indispensable. But that should not be the long-term status quo. The noblest leader sets it all up so that he or she can bow out and leave the organization – and its developing leaders – in a flourishing state. What better legacy can one leave than that?

The expendable leader may well stick around and provide value for a long time after it’s absolutely necessary, but they should one day step outside the door, realize that they could indeed be hit by a bus right now – and that all would be running smoothly when the door opens the next day.

We don’t want to leave behind perpetual dependents. The best leaders grow healthy independence in those they lead.

What do you think? This Tuesday night (8 pm ET), we’ll be discussing leadership (Open Mic night – any topic you wish to discuss!) for our weekly #LeadershipChat on Twitter. Before the magic hour, be sure you also read the perspectives of my partner in chat crime and co-moderator, Lisa Petrilli, on her blog.

(hint: one very easy way to participate is by using a client like Tweetchat. Just log in, read the stream of thoughts that are being shared, and feel free to chime in with your reactions and questions.)


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About Steve Woodruff
Steve Woodruff is a blogger, a Connection Agent, and a consultant in the pharma/healthcare industry. He specializes in helping people and companies make mutually beneficial connections.

One Response to The Expendable Leader

  1. mckra1g says:

    My first reaction was to think of parenting. I have three daughters, ages 16, 18 and 21. From the time they were about 9 or 10, a consistent mantra of mine to them: “My job is to teach you to live without me.”

    A leader who fosters a “boss centric” model is short sighted at best and egomanial at worst. The false sense of self esteem that is built from a mindset that a leader is indespensible is actually the most corrosive element of team building.

    True leaders develop, nuture and value autonomy within their ranks, trusting on their team to eventually exceed the leader’s role. As a matter of course, by that time, the original “leader” will have evolved toa higher plane as well. It’s a continuum.

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