The other day, Mark Cole, the CEO of all our companies, asked a question to our leadership team that I thought was powerful. Looking around the room at our executive vice presidents, he asked, “Who would fill your chair if you weren’t here?”
Mark is one of the best and most capable leaders I know, and I loved the way he connected with his team through this question. It provided them with not only a clear picture of what it means to be in leadership with our organization—but to be a leader, period.
If you want to lead, you must make sure you never leave behind an empty chair. You must constantly develop other leaders to take your place.
I’ve said it before, but it’s the responsibility of a leader to reproduce other leaders; that’s the premise of my latest book, The Leader’s Greatest Return, but it’s also at the heart of my calling. Since 1976 I’ve been passionate about teaching leadership principles and practices, not as a way of building a name, but as a way of building up other leaders. I’ve made it my life’s work to add value to leaders who multiply value to others.
I come by this conviction honestly. In my first leadership role, I didn’t develop other leaders the way I needed to. As a result, an organization that blossomed while I was there quickly fell apart only a few months after my departure. There simply wasn’t enough leadership to sustain the momentum.
I don’t want that to happen to you, or to anyone. It’s why I want you let Mark’s question echo in your life: “Who would fill your chair if you weren’t here?”
Regardless of your role, or age, or stage, you should be thinking about developing someone to take your place. As part of the launch of my new book, we partnered with my publisher, HarperCollins Leadership, to survey hundreds of leaders about developing other leaders.
One of the best findings was that younger leaders—between the ages of 25-35—were not only rising into leadership positions, they were pouring into others along the way. On average, young leaders were mentoring or developing anywhere from one to five potential leaders!
My friends, we should all have the same disposition as leaders. Our attention should be on investing in the right people who have the talent and aptitude to step into our role. It doesn’t mean we have to have designs on a different role—we don’t invest in others as an escape plan. We invest in others because we want to bring out the best in them, which frees us up to ask, “What’s next?”
Because, if leadership teaches us anything, there’s always something next, and we should be ready to answer the call.
That’s only possible if we’ve done the work of preparing someone to take our place. We cannot leave behind an empty chair—we owe it to our teams and ourselves to make sure we’re developing other leaders who can step up. We care best for the people we lead when we prepare people to step up and into leadership.
Good leaders never leave behind an empty chair. Instead, they leave behind a legacy of leaders who develop leaders.
Can that be said of you?