In the past three months, I’ve become a grandfather (twice!), celebrated my 61st birthday, and taken on the role of Director of Men’s Ministries at my church.  Taking on this new role was included on my “possibilities” list discussed in my June 2018 blog, Keeping seems easy.  Stopping is hard.  Starting even harder.

I accepted the Director role with one condition and one strategic focus.  The condition was that I would serve for no more than three years.  This three-year “self-imposed” term limit has driven my strategic focus, which is to identify, develop and mentor my replacement, hopefully someone half my age!  I want to do this immediately, as soon as possible and certainly within the next three years.

Notice that my initial focus is not on increasing participation, improving programs, or some other typical outcome.  Instead, I am focused on replacing myself even as I get started.

Don’t get me wrong, I really want this job!  It is a good fit for my experience, personality and skills.  And I know that I still need to keep the ministry going and growing, while searching for my replacement and waiting for them to develop and prepare to replace me.  But my biggest challenge on this new job is learning to become replaceable.   

One of first assignments as new Director was to read the book, “7 Practices of Effective Ministry” by Andy Stanley.  In Chapter 8, Developing New Talent, the following paragraph was a real attention getter:

It’s sobering but unavoidable. One day it will be over. One day someone else will be doing what you’re doing.  One day you will be replaced. Whether you have an exit strategy or not, you will ultimately exit. And on that day, everything you’ve done, everything you’ve dreamed, and everything you’ve built will be placed in someone else’s hand.”

So – like it or not, ready or not – we must face the fact that we all become replaceable.  Stanley goes on to state that – faced with this fact - we have only two choices:

  1. Desperately hold on until someone replaces you, or
  1. Strategically identify and prepare your replacement.

If you have “tuned out” at this point, you have made Choice #1.  However, if you see benefit in having input and influence on your replacement(s) and the future direction of your organization, then Choice #2 – learning to become replaceable - is for you.

Learning new ways and setting new goals, requires a “why” and a “how.”  Understanding “why” helps to “see” the benefit(s) of taking a new direction, and provides energy and incentive needed to do the hard work of learning, changing and adapting to new ways.  Once the “why” is understood, ideas and strategies are needed on “how” to get started and what actions to employ.  Let’s begin with “why.” 

Why Become Replaceable?

  1. Because you’re not going to be around forever. This feels like it should be the “final reason” on the list.  But let’s get real and start with the “bottom line” - life is short and it goes by fast.  Don’t be in denial.
  1. Because you want to leave a legacy. We all want to be positively remembered.  We want our life’s work to sustain and continue.  To leave a legacy, you need a successor.
  1. Because you will lose talented people; they will go elsewhere if they can’t see a future with the organization. All people want to play role and to “own” a piece of the strategy. No one wants to stand by, twiddling their thumbs, watching you do all the work, with nothing to do.
  1. Because you don’t want to be (completely) selfish. If you have enjoyed and benefited from your work experiences and leadership positions, you should give others the same opportunities you’ve had to learn and grow.
  1. Because you want to grow and improve your organization. To multiply, you must not only replace yourself but also “replicate” yourself. You can’t do it all and you don’t have all the good ideas and skills that are needed.
  1. Because it is sub-optimal to leave talent on the sidelines. You want to strengthen your organization for both current production and future sustainability.  Identify multiple replacements for yourself and get them working alongside.
  1. Because you need back-up. You may be injured, or needed at home for an extended period, or even want to take the vacation of a lifetime. Is there someone that can step in for you in an emergency?  Who is that person?  Are they prepared?
  1. Because, you want to continue to grow personally, to do and learn new things. What are those things you’ve always dreamed about and wanted to do, but for “some reason” never seem to get around to doing?  What’s holding you back?
  1. Because you don’t want to be building the future without input from the future. Except to support your retirement benefit, you are not building the future for you but for the next generation.  Let them have a say about their future and an opportunity to shape it.

How to Become Replaceable? 

 Hopefully, one or more of these reasons to become replaceable have caught your attention and started to shift your mindset and willingness to give it a try.  If so, here are some ideas – some “dos and don’ts”- on how to start becoming replaceable.  Not all may apply – so just use the one(s) that apply to you.

  1. Learn to hand off what you do. Realize this is not natural and must be learned.  What makes you a great leader (“hands on” ownership, commitment, taking risks,) makes this really hard to do.
  1. Allow your replacements to shadow you. Begin by asking “who can I show” how to do the things you do, and “who can I bring with” to this meeting, event or telephone call?    The more you do this, the better you will get at it.
  1. Teach, mentor, and develop. Stop thinking of yourself as a technical expert and begin thinking as a teacher. What you know and know how to do has value only by sharing it with others.
  1. Use the “Gradual Release of Responsibility Model”1 (GRRM) in developing your replacements. Step 1 – teach and explain while they observe you performing the job. Step 2 – let them to “help” with part of the task.  Step 3 – let them to take the lead role while you “assist” as needed.  Step 4 – release ownership to your replacement while you observe and cheer their success.
  1. Establish personal “term limits” – When you take a new job, position or role, have an intentional “three-year plan” going in. Year 1 – Learn and listen to understand what works and what needs to get better.  Year 2 – put your ideas for getting better to work.  Year 3 – Identify your replacement and position them for hand-off.  (See GRRM model above.)
  1. Position your replacements for succession. “Cross train” and teach others how to be your back up (short term) and your replacement (longer term.) Consider this your personal succession plan.
  1. End any generational bias immediately. The replacement “window” is closing fast and there is no time to point fingers at generational differences and short comings. In truth, we have more in common with our replacements than differences.  And our differences make us stronger if we honor them. We need to trust each other and have much to learn from each other.
  1. Make a possibilities list. To help “loosen your grip” on the things you need to transition, make a “possibilities” list of things you want to start doing.  Prioritize the things on your possibilities list and share your list with others and make it “real.  Use your list as motivation to do the hard work of becoming replaceable.
  1. Start now.  Don’t prepare your succession plan in the ambulance on the way to the hospital!

Learn to become replaceable:  Identify your successors. Develop them. Get out of their way! We will continue to help our clients to grow and succeed as leaders as they learn to become replaceable.  If you have ideas or experiences to share on this important topic, please post them so others can benefit.

Best regards,


1 Model developed by Doug Fisher / Nancy Frey