Give your job away

keys-1317391_1280Every now and then I remember a management practice that I discovered years ago playing in rock & roll bands. (You may be unaware that rock groups are incubators for highly sophisticated behavioral development techniques!)

I forgot about this until I came across a terrific new book—An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization. In it authors Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey mention, almost in passing, an important principle of leadership development: “Continuously develop authority downward.” (This book will get a separate post soon to deal with its more important and controversial thesis that "people development" is the whole point of business!)

Developing authority downward is a message I've been preaching for decades, along with its corollary: "Do yourself out of a job." Train and coach others to do what you do, better than you do it! (Of course this doesn't fit every situation, but it should apply to nearly every manager or supervisor in a growing company.) If you get really good at giving your job away, you will almost certainly earn a new job that pays more and provides new ways to grow.

But until today I forgot that I began practicing a simple form of this when I was the front man of a honky-tonk rock band in the late 70s and 80s. I always encouraged band members to come up and share the spotlight by singing lead vocal on a few songs—or to challenge themselves by playing different lead instruments. The idea (though it's more obvious to me now in hindsight) was to keep things interesting and challenging for the musicians, who were good enough to be playing with any band they wanted. But in my band they were given a nudge to take a leadership role, which may have been denied to them elsewhere by uptight band leaders.

It worked for me because that way the band became a bigger draw. Over time we featured several lead singers—including an exceedingly attractive woman who had a legion of followers—and a wildly creative stage show in which band members could contribute whatever unusual and crazy gifts they had. Meanwhile I could always find new ways to develop myself (e.g., by taking over percussion duties when the drummer sang lead). A classic win-win-win, in which everybody was able to grow.

Not surprisingly, this was a great developmental path for many of my musicians, who wound up performing with big name players a few years later (like Julian Lennon or Cindy Lauper) or becoming lead singers in their own right.

And (I almost forgot) I wound up as a leadership trainer-coach.

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  1. Where I work the union wouldn't appreciate employees being given more responsibility without an increase in pay. Also, talk of doing yourself out of a job would make them nervous.

    1. My experience is that different unions respond differently. And I've worked with many union leaders who aren't stuck in an adversarial mindset.

  2. Good to see you trying to develop the musicians in the band, John, but what did you do for the drummer?!

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