Creating an organization of leaders

Why it’s important to make sure you can be replaced.

Joseph Gefroh
7 min readMar 1, 2019


Work yourself out of your job. That’s been my motto at every company I’ve been in, but what does it mean?

Simple: it means do so well that you can be replaced.

If you’re in a leadership position, that means developing a pipeline of junior leaders and providing them with the skills, experience, and knowledge to ultimately replace you.

Dig your own grave, and do it with a smile

Paranoid, weak leaders consider such replacement planning as “digging their own grave.” Fearful, they hang onto their job as best they can, clawing out against potential competition.

The old adage “A players hire A players, B Players hire C players” rings true — weak leaders never hire someone who can potentially be better than they are. It’s their form of ensuring job security.

True leaders view replacement planning as one of the most effective ways to achieve a 10x impact on their organization. They seek out the potential in people, and try to train their junior leaders up to the point where those people can eventually replace them.

Even if that day never comes, creating new leaders provides the organization an increased capability to execute: a massive advantage in today’s highly competitive markets.

To address a concern

One of the hesitations many leaders have is the concern that someone would leave after investing in their skills. The concern is valid, but such investment can be done in a way that isn’t a wasted effort. Focusing on training for the immediate-needs of the organization can help shrink the time to benefit of the training, resulting in a more rapid return of investment.

There’s also a long-term benefit to training junior leaders who may end up leaving, helped by the the network effect: you and the company may end up working with these individuals in the future.

If you aren’t thinking about replacement planning, you’re doing yourself and your organization a disservice.


How does one go about doing replacement planning?

There’s many ways — this is just one path.

Figure out what your organization values

The first step to creating leaders is to identify what traits a leader should have in your organization.

Depending on your context, different traits may be called for.

For example, a high-initiative, “get it done” culture might be critical on the streets of Iraq or in the boardroom, but may potentially clash with the more consensus driven leadership needed from a communal garden coordinator or the softer touch required of a missionary organization.

The one foundational trait

The cornerstone trait required for all successful leaders is that of integrity.

Leaders that cannot be trusted simply cannot lead. If a leader’s followers, peers, or superiors cannot trust them, the whole chain falls apart.

Nor will leaders that lack integrity improve over time. They’ll attempt to hide all of their mistakes and failures at the cost of learning and growing, blaming others and sowing discord and discontent. These toxic seeds spread and fester throughout the organization. If a leader spends all of their time convincing themselves and others that they didn’t fail, there’s no time left to learn, grow, or improve.

Without integrity as a core trait of leaders, organizations are guaranteed to fall apart to bickering, infighting, and politically driven self-sabotage.

Get the right people on the bus

Once you’ve identified the traits you are looking for, you’ll be able to select for those traits either in your existing team or from outside.

Update the hiring process

Make sure your hiring process factors in your newly identified core values. For example, if you’ve identified an “unrelenting pursuit of excellence” as a core trait of your organization, but your hiring process doesn’t change to reflect that, you’ll continue hiring people who won’t succeed in your organization.

Actively seek core values out. Find markers that you can use during the hiring process to identify whether traits are being exhibited or not. Remember: it’s more expensive to hire the wrong person than to miss out on a potential good fit.

Don’t forget to consider future potential. Someone not demonstrating your organization’s core values today may be your most valued employee tomorrow. Consider the importance of a desire to learn and grow when hiring. “Good enough” today is better than waiting for perfect in fast-moving environments.

Identify your organization’s exemplars

Chances are there’s already people in your organization that embody your core values and traits. Looking outside is important, but it’s also important to make sure the people already in your organization get a chance to shine.

Get a good understanding of how much people already in your organization encompass the traits.

Examine their track records and history of prior decision-making. Talk to people who have worked with them, as well as those who didn’t. Understand the context of decisions they have made and the impact of those decisions. Learn how they executed. Understand how their behaviors fell in line with those traits you are seeking.

You’ll find that people fall across a large continuum — everyone has different combinations of strengths and weaknesses. Your job as a leader isn’t to create the Übermensch, but to ensure that the team has the right combination of capabilities and traits needed to succeed in their environment.

Move people to the right seats

Once you’ve identified those individuals with and without the traits you desire, it’s important to ensure that they are in the right positions within the organization.

For those that already exhibit the traits you are seeking, it means placing them in positions that allows them to increase their impact over time. It means partnering with them, providing them growth, opportunities, sponsorship, and support to advance through the organization at the level of their capabilities.

For people have some traits but not others and simply need more improvement, the answer is simple: provide opportunities to remediate their weaknesses and improve on their strengths. Direct training, mentorship, and upfront, honest, respectful feedback and guidance will help align them to the values and traits of the organization.

If a weakness can’t be remediated at the individual level, you can still cover those weaknesses by teaming people up with areas of strengths overlapping others’ areas of weakness.

Get the wrong people off the bus

Some people just won’t embody the core values and traits of your organization. In some cases, the individuals may not demonstrate any of the traits you are seeking.

Sometimes it is possible to remediate these issues. However, in other cases it seeing improvement may be a long-term effort that the organization just doesn’t have the runway to achieve. In situations like this, it may be best to part ways and let the employee go.

Remember that when you do have to let go of people, it’s often not their fault. The organization mis-selected. Treat people humanely and make sure they are set up to succeed in their future endeavors.


While not all training needs to be formal, creating a structured leadership training program can be useful in aligning your junior leadership towards a “north star” that details the organization’s desired values and needed skills.

Add notes, case studies, resources and reading materials to supplement one-on-one lessons and discussions on what it means to embody the values of your organization. Provide detailed examines of behaviors and actions they could take to become better leaders or execute more effectively. Actively tweak the program as you receive feedback on how effective they are or whether they are accomplishing the desired outcomes.

Change and improvement is a continuous, long-term effort. It requires continuous feedback, course-correction, and guidance. The end result, when done well, is excellence and increased retention.


Leadership that stays purely in the realm of the theoretical is useless. Like any skill, it requires practice. Your job at this point is to create as much opportunities as possible for your junior leaders to flex their leadership muscle.

This means stepping back and giving them the autonomy they need to flail and succeed, or even fail. Coddling people might seem like a good idea, but it stunts their growth in the long-term.

Don’t let them sink the ship, but do let them steer it every now and then.

Don’t forget to evolve

An organization’s needs change over time as their operating environment shifts.

Not recognizing the need to adapt is big reason why companies that were previously successful fail when they encounter new challenges.

Usually, these challenges don’t appear out of the blue.

Organizations operate under their status quo for years, only to one day realize too late that their environment no longer resembles what they were built to succeed in.

Organizations that fail to adapt and evolve will flounder and fail.

A leader’s job isn’t just to watch out for the organization today, but to ensure that the organization’s long-term needs are met. One of the hallmarks of good leadership is when an organization survives and thrives when its leader is removed. That means the leader did their job — they created a self-sustaining environment that could effectively operate without them.



Joseph Gefroh

VP of Product and Engineering @ HealthSherpa. Opinions my own. Moved to Substack.