Are you a skilled enough leader to design yourself out of a job? I used to think that being a leader meant, well, leading. You’re the boss, you run the company. A good CEO or leader is involved in all aspects of running the company, right? I have to stay on top of all the operations and all decision-making to be a good executive. That’s how leaders roll. I was wrong.

Your real job is to build a team of people far more talented than you at each position, and then get out of their way. Tweet This Quote

First, no matter how smart you are, you’re not a smart as you think you are. You couldn’t possibly do all the things a business needs done. Odds are, you’re really good at one thing and average at most others. Why cripple your company by taking on work you’re not the best at?

Think of a baseball team. Would the manager ever walk out to right field and tell the league-leading, home-run-hitting, All-Star right fielder that he needs to work on his pitching? Of course not. His job is to hit home runs and throw out runners at the plate. Someone else is the pitcher, and he’s really good at it.

Your business is the same. You may be the boss, but you are probably only really good at playing one position. If you are a great marketer, don’t try to run engineering or operations. Instead, hire people smarter than you. Then let them play.

Why cripple your company by taking on work that you are not the best at? Tweet This Quote

Your real job as a leader is not to run the business yourself. Your real job is to build a team of people far more talented than you at each position, and then get out of their way. Let them do what they do best. Hand the ball to your All-Star pitcher, and go take your position in right field.

In fact, the best leaders eventually realize that the most effective management formation is the inverted pyramid. The traditional (I’d really rather say “old school”) model of management is an upright pyramid, with the CEO at the top, and a wide base of employees below you. Working for you. Serving you.

But the best leaders work in an inverted pyramid. Instead of all your employees working for you, you work for them. It’s your job to serve them. I believe my companies were successful because we had the best team; we had the best team because we built an environment where all the best people wanted to work.

Instead of trying to “run the company” and do everything myself, I spent my time hunting for talent, bringing them onboard, and then constantly trying to see what I could do for them to make their job the best job they ever had—and make this company the best place they ever worked.

No matter how smart you are, you’re not a smart as you think you are. Tweet This Quote

One day, I checked my calendar and somehow there were no appointments. My calendar was finally not completely full. So, I walked down the hall to see what was going on in product development—to see if I could help. When I got there, the team was conducting a code review for a software product. When I walked in, they politely told me they were in the middle of a review, and maybe I should take the day off and go play golf. Slightly insulted at my dismissal, I walked down the hall to operations. My Vice President of Operations was leading his team through an operations planning exercise. I asked if I could help. They said they had it all under control, and I should perhaps go play golf. When I walked to the finance department, they laughed and pointed out that it would take too long to explain it all.

I went back to my office, dejected. Shortly after that, my whole management team walked into my office. They asked me why I was sad. I said that I just found out that no one needed me anymore.

Your goal as a leader is to design yourself out of a job. Tweet This Quote

Instead of being sad, they said I should be celebrating. They didn’t need me because they all knew what they were doing. They were all really good at their jobs. In fact, they were so competent that everything was going well, and there were no problems.

That day I realized something important. Your goal as a leader is to design yourself out of a job. To build a team that’s so good they don’t need you. That doesn’t mean you have to go home or retire; it means you’re free again. To dream. To envision. To plan the future of the company and steer the ship, while everyone else is keeping the ship moving in whatever direction you point them.

So flip that pyramid over, and stop thinking everyone works for you. Stop trying to run the company, and go out and find people smarter than you in every area. Let them lead you to victory. Maybe now you’ll have time to plan that victory party.


A version of this post originally published in February 2014. It has been updated and republished to inspire further conversation.

About the author

Jeff Hoffman

Jeff Hoffman

Jeff is a serial entrepreneur, motivational speaker, and global mentor. He is co-founder and partner of ColorJar and previously founded and led companies such as Priceline.com, uBid.com, CTI, and others. Recently Jeff was inducted into the Entrepreneur’s Hall of Fame by the CEO Council.