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3 Reasons to Avoid Being an "Irreplaceable Leader"​

Published: Friday, July 9, 2021

It's natural to entertain the idea that being irreplaceable is good for you and your career. You might think that being irreplaceable creates job security. It means that the value you bring to your organization is so much more than others that the organization can't function without you. Your loss would create profound and lasting issues that would be difficult to overcome. 

In this brief article, I will provide three reasons why being irreplaceable is terrible for you and your career and why you are not as irreplaceable as you think.

Being Irreplaceable Impacts Your Life and Wellbeing

Chances are, if you are irreplaceable as a leader, you bear all of the weight of decision-making. You have most of the answers to the essential questions that get asked related to your function. And your peers would much rather include you in meetings and projects than your staff. This can give you a feeling of importance, but it can also be a considerable burden. Your ability to be present during development opportunities is reduced if you even have time for them. Your ability to take uninterrupted time off is unlikely. Your ability to focus on essential areas of your personal life is often impacted. Things like your physical health, your marriage, and being present with your family can all suffer. The result could be poor health and poor relationships. Ironically, these negative results can and almost always do impact your job.

Being Irreplaceable Makes Promotion More Difficult


When you are irreplaceable in your role, you sabotage your ability to advance in an organization. Or at least make it very inconvenient for your leaders to promote you. If advancement is something you seek, you need to make yourself easy to promote. If a leader is needed in another role, the organization can't necessarily wait for you to develop or hire a replacement. They also can rarely afford to have you wearing two hats once promoted. Typically the organization needs someone 100% focused on the new role as soon as they start. If your organization realizes you have become irreplaceable, it can, oddly enough, create an incentive for them to hold you back. Or, ironically, replace you.

Being Irreplaceable is the Antithesis of Leadership

Leadership is not about your ability to achieve. Leadership is about helping others achieve the objectives of an organization. It is about maximizing your team's ability to deliver. If you are irreplaceable, you are a bottleneck and a brick wall for those with talent and aspirations to advance. By making all of the decisions, participating in meetings and projects that really should be attended by your staff, and keeping important information to yourself, you stifle the development and growth of your team. Innovation diminishes in these environments, and retention is usually lower than it should be.

Organizations that recognize that they have irreplaceable leaders will do something about it eventually. Well-run organizations will suffer short-term consequences for longer-term gain and risk reduction. Therefore, It's a fallacy to think you are irreplaceable. A day of reckoning will come. So, do yourself a favor for all the reasons I mentioned, share information freely, develop your team, and strive to be replaceable!

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