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Friday, February 06, 2009

Train Your Employees To Take Your Place

When I attended a Basic Supervisory Course some sixteen years ago, one lesson stuck with me more than others and that is "it is the supervisor's responsibility to train the ones who will take his place". I was an acting supervisor then in a 7-Eleven store in EDSA corner Boni avenue. I was young, still a bit naive and insecure and the idea of giving someone a chance to take my place was unthinkable. To a certain extent I was protective of what I know. I was assigned to an acting leadership role shortly after I was regularized. I thought that I ascended unusually fast and to have someone outpace my rise to leadership was unsettling. So in my mind I was saying "No way!"

Leo Ortiz who conducted that training also said that if your subordinates happen to be better leaders than you and move past you, you should be happy with the fact that you paved the way for a great leader to arise. You can just imagine me kicking and screaming my way to accepting that lesson. It was against my "I'll race you to the top" concept of achieving professional success. But Ortiz said that if we train our employees to become leaders, they will push us up and that if we don't, they will weigh us down. I learned from that seminar that one of the true measures of leadership success is developing other leaders. It made so much sense to me that it has become my passion, no obsession to equip my employees to actually take my place or overtake if they can. I'm proud to report that a number of my previous staffs has moved up to become successful Managers themselves.

So, how does one leader prepare others to take her place? I'd say that work starts right at hiring them. If you consider yourself a good leader and believe that your work requires a fair deal of leadership skills, you can't train replacements if you keep hiring people with absolutely no leadership potentials. I am, for example, more inclined to hire people who are clear about their ambitions, have initiatives, who are creative and resourceful, capable of expressing themselves and good natured. That's because I believe those are good leadership ingredients. I'm sure you have your own recipe for leadership. What's important is you know your ingredients when you see them. Look for them when you screen candidates.

I can't remember his name anymore but I was talking to a consultant from the Asian Institute of Management about empowerment when I was Head of Training at SPI Technologies. He gave me a rather philosophical and rhetorical question as an answer. He asked, how do you make pots? Only a miracle of nature can make them look like pots without the potter's intervention. The potter has to shape them put them through several processes and test before he lets go... and then he lets go. Like Yoda, he leaned back to allow me to absorb the wisdom of his words. After a while I responded, to empower without shaping is to risk empowering incompetence. He knew I learned my lesson. The idea stuck with me until a few days later I decided to have my own leadership development program in my own team. I came up with guidelines and let my staff take turns in taking on leadership roles. I served as their coach until finally, they can do the job of leading and that's when I knew my job was done and that I can move on to greater responsibilities. I became an HR Manager for PET Plan's subsidiary companies. When I was HR Director of Athena E-Services my team can pretty much run the show even in my absence. Here where I am now at ExeQserve, the same is true. I'm developing pretty awesome leaders and future training consultants here and I'm excited about the prospects of those next in line.

When you train future leaders, you must recognize the need to do the heavy lifting at first, the shaping to make sure that they are properly honed and molded. It reminds me that a good pot is a product of a skilled potter. You can't give what you don't have so, it's important for a leader to also take lessons from other leaders.

Lastly, I'd say that not all shaping turns out to be a success. A leader should not beat himself up for people who don't respond well to the training. They have their own place in the sun. Remember, not everybody needs to be a leader. Work with those who have what it takes and want to do what it takes to be a leader..


  1. "if your subbordinates happen to be better leaders than you and moved past you, you should be happy with the fact that you paved the way for a great leader to arise"

    I like this one. Many leaders feel bitter when a subordinate gets promoted to a higher position. They are also worried about how they appear to their peers too.

    It is also true that not everyone are cut to be leaders - even with good leadership training programs.

  2. I think I don't have leadership skills

    maybe I'm one of those people who you said are just not cut to be leaders

    I've had my share of being a leader too and they're not a disappointment

    still, I am more comfortable in the backdrop... doing this silently, even without people noticing what I do

    but I think leadership skills training can somehow bring out latent skills... if a person allows it for himself


  3. @Gem, I remember when I was in school, I would listen to my math teachers as they explain mathematical theories, rules and formulae. Just when I think I understood the formula, they would give me test and there I would find out, I don't understand a single thing. I'm thankful that our educational system is flawed because if it wasn't, I should have flunked all my math class because I just don't have the talent for it... then again, if they use apples and oranges, it might have been a different story because I calculate using my right brain :) Have you tried that? :)

    @pchi - Your comment reminded me about our flawed concept of compensation. In many companies, only leaders are paid handsomely as if only leadership skill is the skill that matter. I know a lot of people who contribute more staying where they are... as support to the leader, but they just have to become leaders because that is the coveted position. There are companies who are changing that mindset. They now encourage good programmers to stay as programmers and profit from it more than if they become leaders because that's where they are best at. A good reading on this is Marcus Buckingham's First Break All the Rules.

  4. @Gem, I realized just now how vague my response was! LOL. But You're smart I know you got it...hehehe. For those who didn't what I mean is, I imagine people who don't have the basic ingredient for leadership would come out of the leadership seminar thinking they understand the formula only to find out when real leadership challenge arises that they don't understand a single bit, or still pretend that they do but others observe that they are clueless... sounds familiar? :)


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