Rules for Any Leaders, Rule 5

Always Train Your Replacement Since You Will Be Replaced


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Are you or have you ever been a boss or been someone who has a boss? Chances are, the answer is yes. If so, then this series of essays is for you.

Way back in March 2021, a Twitter user who goes by “Angry Staff Officer” (@pptsapper) posted a pithy and insightful list of “Rules for Army Leaders.” As I am sure you have already surmised, these rules, though specifically addressed to Army leaders, readily apply to any military leader, such as Navy leaders or Space Force leaders (though Space Force rucksacks may be weightless), but did you guess that they also apply just as well to any leader in any walk of life, including civilian bosses?

Over the past weeks and concluding today we have taken a look at each of these rules in turn and applied them to your experience with daily bossing, be you a bosser or a bossee. Find the previous installments here.

Rule 5

Always Train Your Replacement Since You Will Be Replaced

This one is particularly addressed to the bossers, but you bossees should find much to divert and delight you.

Leadership development among staff is often neglected in organizations of all types and sizes. One reason is simply that people are too busy. Bosses and leaders have too many distractions and responsibilities to worry about frills such as staff training, and staff members have too much on their plates to worry about their greater role in the present and future of the organization. In addition, many bosses themselves are not good about seeking the ongoing leadership training they need to remain agile and effective leaders.

Worst of all, many leadership programs are abysmal. You, like me, have probably sat through more than your share of misguided leadership trainings featuring speakers whose canned talks were so generic as to resonate with no one or so banal as to lull everyone into a stupor. As I age, I really, really wish I could have all those hours back. Then again, some of those talks included a fine selection of unripe sliced fruit, rubbery cheese cubes, and weak coffee, so there’s that.

Nonetheless, there are many reasons why leadership development for both bosses and staff is vital for a healthy workplace. I may sound self-interested here since this is the very service I offer to mission-driven leaders and their people, but, then again, I may just know what I am talking about for that precise reason. Leadership skills revolve around human skills, what are sometimes called soft skills, and these are necessary to function successfully in any workplace, a topic I have discussed elsewhere.

Angry Staff Officer, though, offers another compelling, even preordained, reason to develop staff leadership. If you are a boss, one way or another, you won’t be some day. If you care about the future of your organization and its mission, you will assure that someone is waiting in the wings, prepared to take your place when you accidentally step in front of a speeding bus — in other (duller) words, succession planning. Need convincing?

A Selection of Reasons Your Bossdom Won’t Last Forever Despite Whatever Deal You Cut with the Devil to Become a Boss

(To help these these scenarios go down more smoothly, try visualizing a loathsome boss of your own, past or present.)

Some of the Most Common Reasons Your Bossdom Will Someday Cease

Retirement: This just in! You will get old… unless, of course, you suffer the only proven alternative. (Hint: not Botox) You may even be old right now. It is healthy to consider taking a permanent break at a certain point in life from the hustle and bustle of toil and trouble and to leave it all to the next generation to muck up. Some bosses never want to retire, which is universally unhealthy. No one, no matter how much they protest, wants you to never retire. Trust me. Except maybe your spouse.

The Alternative: Whatever the means, if you don’t get to reach retirement age, and I hope this will not be the case, it is axiomatic that you will then no longer be a boss. If, on the other hand, you are one of those codgers who hangs onto work with a death grip, it is also axiomatic that your death grip will be relaxed someday — ironically by death.

Firing: This one sucks overwhelmingly although you may find some joy in your sudden release from a horrible situation. As traumatic and humiliating as being fired is, you can always take great comfort in knowing you no longer have to deal with that nonsense, those idiots, that backstabbing colleague, … You get the idea.

Resignation: This may take place for a variety of reasons. You may find another job or just not want to be a boss anymore. Note that your “resignation” may not be a voluntary resignation at all, a circumstance traditionally signaled by the euphemism, “I want to spend more time with the family.”

Illness: Not quite as bad as death usually, but again I do not wish it on you. It happens though.

Some Slightly More Exotic Reasons Your Bossdom Will Come to an End

Coma: Related to illness and heartbreaking for your loved ones but maybe not so bad for you if you are lucky enough to be fully unconscious and blissfully unaware or are even luckier to be semiconscious and able to eavesdrop on the drama of the medical staff. Then again, it could be you are actually in a comma, in which case it is probably just a typo.

Kidnapping: This one sucks, particularly if it means you don’t get to go back to your bossdom because, you know, the ransom was delayed or not paid or things “went sideways” or something. There is one other option here. See Patty Hearst.

Elopement: An elopement could be a pleasant turn of events and a cause for celebration, particularly with a hale, young trophy spouse. Then again, if your elopement is the very reason you must leave your job to flee the state, perhaps you should have actually finalized (or even initiated) that divorce with your first spouse before getting hitched to another. Happy trails, bigamist!

The Heartbreak of Psoriasis: See illness.

Agoraphobia: This is the fear of public places, and, more precisely, the people therein. Agoraphobia may keep you from heading into the office, but there are workarounds. See claustrophobia.

Mid-life Crisis: See elopement, add a red sports car.

Incarceration: The good news here is that, even in this age of mass incarceration, if you are some lucky combination of rich, prominent, or white, you likely will never have to deal with being incarcerated no matter how heinously you have behaved. On the other hand, if you are not the appropriate combination of these qualities, your chances of incarceration increase significantly no matter how innocently you have behaved.

Some Ultra-exotic Reasons for Terminating Your Bossdom

Alien Abduction: Some say this never happens while others say it happens all the time. Given the prevalence of invasive probing in accounts of alien abduction, this one may be most unappealing to some. It really comes down to your individual taste, I suppose.

Ascension/Divine Intervention: This bears a superficial resemblance to alien abduction. I have never witnessed it, but some books reference it. Ascension may add another alternative to getting old. See Deus ex machina.

Demonic Possession: All in all, this one could be fun depending on the demon.

Stranding on a Desert Island: However unlikely you are to ever be castaway, it is still a good idea to hone your survival skills, such as how to make a fire with two sticks or how to make a radio out of coconut shells. Bon voyage, Gilligan.1

Witness Protection: There was a time when I considered this a pretty attractive option. The government takes control of you and your family, gives you a whole new identity, and whisks you away to a distant locale to live out a totally different life. Sound great! Let’s go! Then I saw the ending of Goodfellas. Given the choice between egg noodles smothered in ketchup and the vengeance of the mob, I will take my chances with the mob.

So there you have it. You can see that there are many reasons why your bossdom will come to an end, so best to prepare your organization for a future without you by training your people. It is not enough, though, just to teach people the day-to-day aspects of the job. They will also have a critical need to know how to lead, a skill you and all leaders must hone continually as well. And be vigilant. Your future departure may be lurking right around the corner in the form of a highly localized quantum singularity or an errant scooter driver.

Having perused all these possibilities, perhaps you still feel I have not sufficiently convinced you of the fleeting nature of bossdom and the need to prepare your organization and successors, so let me add one more reason. Even if you don’t feel it at the moment, some day you really will want to spend more time with family — despite their objections.

Query of the Week

The Leadership Development Challenge

How do you prepare colleagues and employees for future leadership? How do you assure that you are continually honing your leadership skills?

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