Don’t Make Yourself Indispensable

When you’re first starting a company, you’re right there in the thick of it, all the time. During that heavy lifting phase, you naturally have to throw yourself into getting your startup off the ground and figuring things out.

But it can’t go on like that forever. Obviously your own personal health would take a hit, but it’s also a sign of poor health for your company if it relies on your presence in order to exist.

So once you’re a little farther along—after you have things figured out and have a good market fit—as the CEO you need to start thinking about working ON the business instead of IN the business.

You should be able to go away for a month or two and still have your business run just fine without you there.

Now, that doesn’t mean you should run away to Cuba for six weeks right off the bat. Start out by testing the waters by staying out of the office for a couple of days. Next, actually leave town for a few days. During these test periods, remain accessible and see what happens. What do people send you emergency texts about? Did it turn out that there are some things only you know how to do? Was there something only you have the authority to take care of? Figure out what information you need to share with other members of your team.

This is all about surrounding yourself with great people and ensuring they have the ability to handle every aspect of the day to day business. In November of 2015, I took an entire month off work. I was able to do that because I have a great team and the business was healthy enough to run smoothly for a month without me.

Refusing to become indispensable doesn’t mean you aren’t important to the company, or that your contribution isn’t valuable. But when it comes to day to day operations, if you have to be there in order for things to work, it’s an indication that you’re not building the company the right way. If you get to this point, as a special bonus, you’ll get to focus more on strategy instead of tactics and this will in turn move the needle even more.

file under: Startups
  • I love this approach, and have been using it at FullContact for many years now. I also encourage this type of approach for every leader in our organization. I tell managers – if you are designing a system where you are ‘indispensable’ you will quickly become dispensable 😉 As a bonus, when you get to this point, you get bandwidth to focus on strategy, but also blog as a creative outlet as well 🙂

    • David Cohen

      Ha!

  • Rod Robinson

    Great post David. Great advice for any leader.

  • Michael Ketchum

    Well said.