Are you a threat or a liberator?

Once upon a time leaders held on to unique knowledge as a way of ensuring their continued value to the organization. Smart leaders understand that sharing knowledge with potential successors is one of the keys to unlocking career success. Here’s how to groom your successor so you can move on to your next great thing.

Too good?

Is it possible to be too valuable for our own good?

While we may view our unique knowledge as a valuable career asset that will propel us to our next position, our boss may view our unique knowledge as so valuable she wants to keep us right where we are.

It’s a matter of perspective which can be illustrated with an old joke about the difference between cats and dogs. It goes something like this:

The dog thinks about his owner — he feeds me, he picks up my poop, he lets me out into the yard whenever I want to go outside, he must be a god!

The cat thinks about his owner, he feeds me, he picks up my poop, he lets me out into the yard whenever I want to go outside – I must be a god!

The facts are the same, but the perspectives are different.

Similarly, our value to our organization is a matter of perspective. From our perspective, being valued not only for what we do but for what we know increases our chances of moving forward in our career.

That’s our perspective. Let me share another.

Dual-role dilemma

Some years ago I was hired to be the COO for a non-profit with a regional focus. I was also hired to be the COO for its sister organization, a non-profit with an international focus.

Shortly thereafter, I pitched an idea for growing the international non-profit. The board of directors loved the idea. One of them looked at me and the CEO and said, “Greg will have to choose between the two organizations. There’s no way he can be COO of both organizations with this kind of expected growth.”

I chose the international organization. I was excited about the opportunities that lay ahead.

Two years later I was still the COO of both organizations.

What happened? Or more to the point, what didn’t happen?

From the organization’s perspective I was so valuable in managing the day-to-day operations of the regional organization, I could not be released to grow the international organization. It appeared I was trapped by my own success.

However, there are several ways to free ourselves from the trap of being too valuable to let go.

Share knowledge. Sharing knowledge with others is good for us; it makes our boss less dependent on us for critical information which, in turn, makes us more available for career enhancing special assignments and projects.

Develop others. Providing others with opportunities to assume some of our responsibilities even temporarily (giving them projects to lead, assigning them a few of our job duties) develops their skill set but it also provides our boss with an option for getting our work done if we want to pursue our own development in special or temporary assignments.

Network. It can be advantageous to our career aspirations to discover others, through activities such as networking, who have the potential to do what we do. The availability of people qualified to perform our responsibilities may encourage our boss to encourage us to pursue other opportunities.

By discovering someone in my own personal network who was capable of managing the day-to-day operations of the regional non-profit, I was finally able to perform the higher level work at the international non-profit that I was so passionate about.

“Giving away” what makes us valuable sounds counter-intuitive but when others are able to perform our current duties we are liberated to pursue future opportunities.

Greg Wallace is the founder of The Wallace Group. Visit Greg has also just released his second book, Transforming: the Power of Leading from Identity.”