At Google, the director of my team repeated a management mantra to us quite often. “Manage yourself out of a job; make yourself redundant”, she would say. “Empower your people and then get out of the way.” Our director was a terrific team builder.
Before Google, she founded a startup where she learned to build a company. When she told us her mantra, she was sharing her learnings with us.
Company builders sow the seeds of a team, cultivate each teammate, promote a leader from within and then step away after the team has become capable of running itself. They are force multipliers. Where there was nothing, a self-sustaining organization has blossomed. It’s a beautiful thing.
But no one talks about what happens after that process is completed. Watching company-building first-hand at a few portfolio companies, I’ve listened to founders and managers explain the challenges of being in this situation.
Once a leader has managed himself out of a job, he has to be ready to find another. Being ready means a few things.
First, it means letting go, ceding pride of authorship and ownership. Someone else is running the team and making the decisions.
Second, it means asking two introspective questions and answering them honestly: “What does the business need next?” and “What am I uniquely capable of achieving for the business?”
Last, it means completely changing daily priorities and a work schedule to focus on the new task at hand, the one thing the business needs next that the person can uniquely provide.
It’s no small change. Often, the next problem is apparent and the transition is seamless, easy and logical. But sometimes, these transitions stress team builders enormously. Sometimes, they create crises of identity or confidence: I used to run this team; now what do I do? Sadly, sometimes it means finding work elsewhere.
Despite the stresses created after the process is completed, managing yourself out of a job is a fine way of summarizing an ethos of team building. But we have to be prepared for the sometimes difficult transition to the next project after we’ve made ourselves redundant.