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Why being replaceable will make your business better

A friend of mine has a motto he lives by: "learn what they teach, teach them what they know". In recent years, he's headed into workplaces with the intent of absorbing every piece of knowledge given to him. Then, when he stops learning, he takes that knowledge and heads onto his next role. He might sound a little cynical, but it'll all make sense in a minute.

For many small business owners, educating employees doesn’t seem like a winning move. I’ve heard the concerns endless times: people are inherently afraid that if someone else can do their job for them, they’ll no longer be a valuable asset. Why train someone if they might usurp you, or just end up leaving?

But up to 60% of those who leave positions state that a lack of education and opportunity is what prompted them to quit. Limiting people won’t protect your job or authority: it’ll just increase your hiring costs and result in a less effective business. If the worst-case scenario for educating an employee is that they leave, what’s the flip side? What’s the cost of not training your staff?

My friend is likely one of the most talented people in his industry in his country. And businesses keep losing him, over and over, because they don’t give him an opportunity to put what he’s learnt into practice. When he was fresh in the workplace he did everything he could to support and educate the people around him. He even sold one of his companies to his employees for $1 when he moved to a new country, and it’s still going strong.

But when people stop investing in him, he stops investing in them. One he stops learning, he leaves.

But what if he had an opportunity to keep learning? To put his years and years’ worth of experience into action? To feel some sense of ownership towards his work?

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A few years ago, when I was looking up business models and plans for my own small business, the idea that everything I built could end with me left me a little heartbroken. From what little psychology I did study, I know most (if not all) of us are driven by the desire to leave something behind – whether it be a child, a pyramid, or a novel.

I personally like the idea of leaving businesses behind for my family. I believe it’s a sentiment many small business owners and entrepreneurs can empathise with.

But how do we ensure our businesses continue to thrive once we leave them? It’s no secret that many companies have crumbled after the loss of a CEO.

The simple solution is the one which makes most people nervous: we train our employees to be better than us. To replace us. To made us unnecessary. So that one day, when we’ve moved into new ventures, our existing businesses can continue to thrive without us. And so that we, too, can learn to become better businesspeople.

My friend, the one who learns and leaves, would excel in roles with more responsibility. He’s built successful companies in the past. He’s proved his capability. But in the niche he finds himself in, everyone is too scared to lose their footholds. They’re scared to give him the opportunity he needs to benefit their businesses to the best of his abilities. They micromanage.

Companies which crumble after management changes might have had good people in charge: but truly great leaders empower the next generation of leaders. They’re not just organizers; they’re effective teachers. And that’s why their businesses outlive their involvement.

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If you truly want your business to thrive, if you want to take stress free holidays, if you want employees who are at the top of their game and who will propel your business forward: teach them. Give them opportunities. Make them feel like owners.

Make yourself replaceable.

- Lena Klein

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