Work Yourself Out of a Job

Want to be a successful leader? Work yourself out of a job.

I meet lots of young entrepreneurs aspiring to grow large companies. Even those without prior management experience often see themselves as a long term CEO.

Not to say that it can’t be done – role models like Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Larry Ellison and others are certainly out there.

But as I encourage founders to pursue their dreams, these days I also tend to slip in a few observations from my having been founder/CEO at the helm of a single company for 20 years of equity financed growth.

If pressed to summarize my personal leadership philosophy into a single phrase it would be “I learned to work myself out of a job.”

No one ever sat me down to explain this dynamic of leadership. It was more a gradual learning process in managerial roles before I started TriNet.

After college I worked for Navy Exchanges, an international retailer. I ran HR departments in four different locations, spread out over three continents and a ten year time span. It was a great learning experience since whatever mistakes I made at one assignment were not known by my managerial peers at the next stop. This allowed me to start with a clean slate several times in quick succession.

When I arrived at assignment #3 (Naples, Italy), elements of my own leadership formula began taking root.

By then, I grasped the importance of getting the right people on the bus and ejecting those that weren’t a fit. I would look for people smarter than me, bringing skills that were additive to the team as well as a set of values that were compatible with those I was trying to build the entire team around.

It always took time to find, then align, the right talent behind the values and goals of where we were going. But once that was in place, we could really rock – putting new initiatives in play and sometimes affecting significant change on the entire work group we serviced.

While I always retained being keeper of the vision and responsible to hold others accountable to both values and goals, what I sought to do at every step was to extradite myself from as many of the operational responsibilities as I could. I looked at having the department run smoothly in my absence as a sign of a strong organization. My mission was to avoid becoming a bottleneck for decisions that others could be equipped to make.

Capable people get things done once processes are defined and a team member knows they will be backed up as needed.

That philosophy carried right into building company culture at TriNet. We defined a set of core values that the entire team holds each other accountable to. Even as the company grew, the momentum has been to keep looking for ways to refine our processes so we can push decisions down, not up.

None of this is easy. Future posts will also carry the leadership tag and go into more detail on illustrating tactics and how to get there.

So if you’re early on in your leadership journey, don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have to be the center of all decision making.

Once you find the right people to surround yourself with, work hard at making yourself dispensable. Your success as a leader has more to do with building an organization that runs smoothly without you than it does being dependent on your being in the thick of every decision.

2 Responses to “Work Yourself Out of a Job”

  1. I think this is very inspirational. For me it would be the first time together with my Business Partner to be in a CEO Position, and I always thought good decision making is made by a Team, we are now trying to find the right People to build our organization. As well as finding more funds for starting up.

    • Sandie – one of the challenges of leadership is striking the right balance between building consensus and sticking to the vision which you as founder might be more fully equipped by seeing “all the data” that not everyone on the team may see. So just be sensitive to not falling into a common trap that a collective decision process is always best. At the end of the day, the leader will be held to a higher standard of accountability than a team.


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