Becoming dispensable

On a recent RECODE/DECODE podcast where Kara Swisher interviews Frances Frei, the SVP of Leadership & Strategy at Uber. Frances is a renowned leadership coach with a special skill at turnarounds and an unparalleled optimism and belief in an individual’s redemption potential and trajectory.

In the podcast Kara and Frances cover Frances’ 3 key to modern leadership:

1) Making others better as a result of your presence. This is usually a “catch-all” line, but the impact needs to be internalized: are you as a leader actively focused on improving those around you?

2) Having strong performance outlast your presence. Replace yourselves as quickly as possible. Leadership is about a leader serving their team and creating a condition for them to thrive with a goal to become replaceable as soon as possible. Having this leadership goal implies the leader is confident there is another role for them in this organization or another one.

3) People feel your high standards and your devotion to them. Communicate this through asking questions and digging deep.

The one that stood out to me the most is item #2:. Younger professionals that rise to the executive ranks earlier than they expected tend to have a problem with becoming dispensable. A natural tendency is to retain information, become important to many stages of the company and not lose the opportunity to give input for what each group is doing.

I fell for this mind trap when Choose Energy was growing but I was lucky in that Kerry Cooper was my CEO giving me strong advice how to combat the problem. Similar to what Frances Frei says, Kerry’s coaching was persistent in that successful leadership was creating a structure that would thrive beyond my presence. It took me a while but ultimately through improved corporate communications, better delegating and transparent KPIs, we created a structure that was successful independent of our cumulative influence.