Steven's Blog

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No One is Indispensable

The success of any business rarely depends on any key manager or executive. It is only the mistaken belief in the indispensability of an executive that masks and suppresses the talent of others. Your leadership bench is often hiding in plain sight.

The CEO of a large European company here in Japan told me how he was reluctant to pressure some division heads to raise their game in his company for fear they would crack. The head of sales for the entire Western Japan territory had just quit, leaving half the sales teams in the company leaderless. The CEO was chastising himself for having promoted the guy into a position for which he was not ready and did not want to repeat the same “mistake.”

Yet, such fears turned out to be unfounded. The head of sales for the Eastern Division stepped up to lead sales for the whole country and has turned out to be a far superior leader, having upped his own game to take on the challenge. The company now has a better led sales division and an improved senior leader, filling out the company’s leadership bench at the highest level. Had the sales head of Western Japan not quit, the company would have been worse off. There is no reason for the CEO to be tentative with his other executives.

The CEO of a different European company in Japan faced a similar situation. His head of direct-to-consumer marketing and sales abruptly quit, leaving the division leaderless while in the midst of a major transformation project. That executive had been problematic and the CEO had considered firing him, but felt he could not afford to do so without compromising the business and the transformation project.

After the head of sales quit, a more junior manager on his staff stepped up to take the lead, learned what he needed, and turned out to be a far superior leader—even though, up to that point, he had never been viewed as having such leadership capability. The CEO had to ask himself why on Earth he had not just fired the executive earlier.

No single executive is ever indispensable in your business. If that were really the case, then it means that your business has much larger endemic problems that I rarely if ever see in practice.

I have never seen a company suffer damage from losing or firing a non-performing key executive. Yet, I have without exception seen companies suffer significant damage from keeping one for too long. Click To Tweet

Is there a manager in your organization who you think is holding the business back, but you’re hesitant to press for improvement or remove he or she because there is no obvious or easy replacement? Think again.

Competence has far more to do with the desire to learn than what has been learned already. It’s not the learned, but rather the learners in your organization who are your leadership bench no matter their capabilities now.

There is no percentage in accommodating mediocrity. The learners in your business are often hiding in plain sight. They will always grow to fill any gap if you clear the way for them. You just have to have the courage to do so.


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