In a recent coaching session I was working with an aspiring young entrepreneur hell-bent on making his tech start-up a success. In turn, he believes that he will then have achieved “success” in life, something he feels has largely eluded him so far in his short professional life.
My client spoke about other ventures he had been involved in which had not turned out as he had hoped. Through listening, I sensed that a common theme was his desire to want to be “the guy” in the business so as to prove to himself and others that he was the one running the show. Chasing the prestige of being an entrepreneur vs chasing the business idea. This was the case in previous entrepreneurial attempts, as well as in the current one.
I asked him what it would be like if he were able to get his business up and running and then step aside. This concept of making himself replaceable provoked a certain amount of fear. It was as if that in itself could be seen as a failure or, at a minimum, as a loss of his personal identity. With a bit more soul searching and digging we came to the conclusion that this could be the cause of what was holding him back from achieving success. A subconscious fear that if he were to somehow achieve success and work himself out of a job that he might not have the ability to command a repeat performance. He chose to acknowledge this and to work to break through this limiting belief.
I led this session two days after having met two very successful entrepreneurs, both of whom had in their relatively short careers (both are about 40), managed to work themselves out of the roles they had created.
The first, an American from Silicon Valley, had started a company/app in the sharing economy space, taken the company through several rounds of fundraising and then stepped up to the board of directors, leaving a professional CEO in place to run the business. I’m not sure how much of the decision to step up to the board was necessarily his, but he seemed at peace with his current stage in life, which now has him relaxing in Southeast Asia, looking for his next “thing”.
The second entrepreneur, let’s call him Jim, had started a company which sold real, tangible products to consumers in Asia-Pacific. From the moment I met him it was obvious that Jim is a first-class promoter/sales guy, and I could see the magic in his ability to enroll people in an idea. The kind of guy who could sell ice to an eskimo. Jim built the company and sold the last of it recently for a tidy sum, although he did point out that he wasn’t a billionaire. Even the best of us compare ourselves to others, but either way, I reminded him of a saying I once heard that anything over $50 million is just keeping score.
“What’s your name…?”
One side-story which Jim told me stood out. Just after selling the final stake in the company he had founded, he visited the company’s headquarters to catch up with the CEO. When he arrived for his appointment, the receptionist greeted him and asked “What’s your name and what company are you from?” Rather than being offended that the receptionist didn’t know who he was (the freaking FOUNDER!), he chose to take this as a crowning moment of his professional career. He had worked himself out of his job to the point of not being known at the head office.
I related both these stories to my coaching client, who was still struggling with the desire to achieve success and notoriety for his accomplishments. He took it in, and quickly got the point.
We have all seen people who do whatever they can to cling on their job or role in an organization. Sometimes they will even create problems for themselves and others just so they can solve them and prove that they are irreplaceable. This almost always comes from a place of low self-worth as the person fears that there is no where else he or she can be successful.
The same pattern can also be seen in a family. Kids can stay in the role of child well into adulthood for fear of growing up. And while as a parent one will never cease being a parent per se, as children grow up and leave the house, healthy parenting entails working yourself out of a job. And just like the guy at the office who fears that he can’t do anything other than what he’s doing now, a parent who is unwilling to let the role change when a child leaves home is more often than not afraid of who he or she will BE if the parent role were to change.
I’d venture to say that the vast majority of people would say that they want to grow in life and be successful, whatever that means in their case. But growth and successful living, as opposed to achieving “success” at some point down the road, must start with believing that you can and will be more, or at least be someone different, than you are today.
Parents cannot call themselves successful unless their children can stand on their own and be self-sufficient. The paradox, both for a parent and for an entrepreneur, is that in order to be successful you need to be replaceable, but in order to be replaceable you need to be irreplaceable first.
What job or role are you currently in which you need to proactively work to make yourself replaceable?