• Jim Boomer, Shareholder, CEO

Great Leaders are Replaceable

What would happen if you had to stop working tomorrow? Would your roles and responsibilities within your firm transition seamlessly? Or would there be utter chaos?

We spend a great deal of time talking and thinking about the need to develop the next generation of leaders at the top of the firm, but what about all of the other critical areas of the firm beyond the partner group? Technology, human resources, training and learning, marketing . . . the list goes on. Are you paying attention to developing the next wave of leadership in those areas as well?

Are you ready for a six-month sabbatical?

During a Boomer CIO Circle™ meeting, one of our consultants posed this question to the group: “In 30 days you are leaving for a six-month sabbatical. How do you prepare to hand off your job duties?” This obviously requires a little more planning than a standard weeklong vacation.

In this scenario, you really need to take stock of your job duties and the skill level of those around you. Are your job duties and the steps necessary to complete them documented? How about your relationships with clients, vendors and partners? Could those be handed off seamlessly? What about the projects you’re currently working on? Does anyone else have the knowledge and capability to manage those in your absence?

Are you a bottleneck?

For many people, this exercise seems too daunting. They’ll simply say no one else on their team can do what they do. But consider this: if the firm’s sustainability depends on you, you are a bottleneck. You are a liability and impede the path to progress. It sounds harsh, but it’s true.

Everyone would like to believe they are irreplaceable. But you arrived at where you are in your career because people in your past offered you the opportunity to learn and advance. Are you giving your team members those same opportunities? A true leader owes it to their team and firm to pay it forward.

One of the CIOs in our group shared his leadership philosophy. He develops his team members for promotion continually, even if there isn’t currently an opportunity to move up in the firm. Sometimes, this means they leave the firm for other opportunities. In fact, he actually helps them find opportunities to advance in their careers, even if it means losing their talent. Why? He believes he’s building loyalty that will be repaid when he has an attractive position open in the future. Plus, he aspires to move up to other endeavors in his own career and is looking for a successor. By investing in his people, he always has a list of capable and willing candidates.

Are you a multiplier or a diminisher?

In her book, Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, author Liz Wiseman argues that leaders fall into two categories: multipliers and diminishers. Multipliers look beyond their own genius and focus on extracting and extending the genius of others, thus getting more from their entire team. Diminishers, on the other hand, believe intelligence is rare, and they’re one of the few recipients of real intellectual ability. Diminishers get things done, but the people around them feel drained and underutilized.

This concept plays in perfectly with how leaders and firms need to prepare for the future. It’s time to stop acting like diminishers and start becoming multipliers. Treat people like the intelligent beings they are. Give them challenging tasks that will help them develop the skills that will prepare them to replace us eventually.

Think of it this way: wouldn’t it be great to return from a vacation without an overflowing inbox? How nice would it be to attend a conference and not need to call in during every break to put out fires? By making yourself replaceable, you create the human redundancy necessary to take that six-month sabbatical without creating chaos.

Where to start

The time to start is now. Take yourself through this mental exercise: if you had 30 days to prepare for an extended absence, how would you prepare? Start making a list of the tasks or duties no one else in your firm knows how to do. Make a list of the clients that recognize you as their only point of contact. Develop a list of the projects you’re working on that no one else in the firm is aware of. Then look for opportunities to let other members of your team take on responsibilities in those areas. Train and coach them up now. By adopting the multiplier mindset, everyone will benefit: the firm, your team, and most importantly, you.

Jim Boomer, CEO of Boomer Consulting, Inc., is an expert on managing technology within an accounting firm. He serves as the director of the Boomer Technology Circles, The Advisor Circle and the CIO Circle. He also acts as a strategic planning and technology consultant and firm adviser to CPA firms across the country. Accounting Today called him a “thought leader who can help accountants create next-generation firms.”

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