Replace Yourself

One day you will leave your centre. You will have to pass the baton to someone else and leave. You may retire or your centre may be sold, you may take a break or move on to something else.

Whatever your reason, you’ll be leaving and someone else will be taking your place.

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This Pivot: Why you should actively plan for your own replacement, and the two approaches you could take.

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One day you will leave your centre.

You will have to pass the baton to someone else and leave. You may retire, or your centre may be sold, you may take a break or you may move on to something else. Whatever your reason, you’ll be leaving and someone else will be taking your place.

How well that change-over goes will be the ultimate testament to your time as manager.

Were you a good enough manager, a foresighted and courageous enough manager, to plan for your own replacement?

Why Does It Matter?

If you have spent more than a few months at your early childhood centre, then like it or not, it will have become a second home.

You will have built professional and personal relationships; become used to the routines, colleagues, children and families; and you will have put your time in to making your role a success. If your departure results in disruption and overload, your legacy won’t be that of a splendid manager.

Quite the opposite.

When you go, those remaining will still have a job to do. If your lack of foresight makes that hard for them (or even impossible), they won’t sit around for long marvelling at your managerial magnificence. Your old staff will quickly realise that you committed the most fundamental of managerial blunders: you failed to plan for the inevitable. All the good things you did and the creative and productive changes you made, may be remembered, but the bulk of your memorial will be the problems you left in your wake.

It’s not just about being remembered fondly.

Presented with a short-sighted handover tragedy, those remaining will have little reason to treasure, respect or maintain the other aspects of your legacy, like the things you built, changed or created and the values you instilled - all your good work.

You’ll risk having much of what you achieved minimised or swept away.

You won’t have made a difference.

It’s Not Just About You

Few people would argue that a professional manager’s only obligation is to themselves (and their own achievements). Being a manager means you accept a fiduciary responsibility to the organisation you manage and its employees, customers and stakeholders.

Fiduciary. 1) n. from the Latin fiducia, meaning "trust," a person […] who has the power and obligation to act for others under circumstances which require total trust, good faith and honesty.

Trust, good faith and honesty don’t have a use-by date.

They aren’t switched off the moment you depart.

Trust, good faith and honesty means you take responsibility for the continued smooth operation of your centre after you leave (in much the same way a pilot’s responsibility doesn’t end with getting the plane on the tarmac - if the plane is not safe to take off again, we really want them to act and not just wander off leaving it for someone else to find!).

It’s Not Just for Big Companies Either

When planning for your departure, the first obstacle to overcome is the idea that only large organisations have the resources to plan for leader succession. Large enterprises do have the luxury of layers of management to sift through for candidates, while a typical early childhood centre has a relatively flat hierarchy. And yes, there’s also a big difference in the budgets available too, but there are practical steps available to us.

There are two general strategies for succession planning in a small business, and you can mix and match them to suit your unique circumstances.

  1. Start grooming people within your organisation.
  2. Reduce the consequences of you leaving (by making your role less critical).

(Relying on having a fully qualified person respond to job advertisements, just when you need them, is not a third pathway!)

1. Groom a Replacement

Are there people already working in your centre that have the right character, competence, culture and chemistry to become leader? Do they have the leadership qualities that match the character of your team?

  • Do they have the right work ethic?
  • Are they teachable and open to suggestions?
  • Are they reliable?
  • Are they interested (in the system, the team, the people in the organisation)?
  • Do they have potential to lead?
  • Do they have a positive attitude?
  • Do they have confidence?
  • Do they have people skills?
  • Do people trust them?

If you have someone who fits the bill, it makes real sense to focus on their development.

  • Make it an intentional, planned process. Use timelines and specific goals (even if you don’t share them with the person). Write it down.
  • Start early - It takes years, not months, to groom a successor. You probably don’t have someone who can be the manager right now, so give them time.
  • Start by sharing tasks - Get them involved in planning, sending emails, budgeting, recruiting, organising, etc.
  • Create the right environment - Don’t be over-assertive. Good leaders don’t develop under a dictatorship. Let your successor make (some of) their own decisions.
  • Consider lateral moves - Move your successor sideways to other roles to gain experience.
  • Stay flexible - You may need to alter your ideas or provide additional training or support.
  • Slowly step back.

2. Make Yourself Dispensable

What greater accomplishment is there than the organisation running well without you? It means you picked great people, prepared them and inspired them. And if executives did this, the world would be a better place. – Guy Kawasaki

If you don’t have anyone on staff that you believe is capable of moving up to take over your role as it stands, then consider reducing your duties to make picking up where you leave off less formidable.

(This has the added advantage of reducing your own work load in the interim!)

Obviously, your centre and the nature of your duties will differ from other managers, making it impractical to give specific suggestions. But there are three general strategies you can use to reduce your direct involvement.


Look for things you do now that could be put on auto-pilot using technology.

You can set up bills to be paid automatically, and you can use computer templates to simplify sending out emails and documents (Google’s Canned Responses function is a good example). You can put auto-emailers to work by sending follow-ups to families based on a schedule, so that you don’t have to manually create emails.

For accounting, most software today lets you connect your bank accounts to automatically import transactions, so that you do not have to manually enter them.

You can automate much of the tedious work around meetings. (See our video Make Meetings Manageable.)

You can replace yourself in many functions by automating time-consuming tasks – it’s just a matter of searching for ideas.

It’s even possible to replace reception duties with an iPad!


Your most important task as a leader is to teach people how to think and ask the right questions so that the world doesn’t go to hell if you take a day off. - Jeffrey Pfeffer, What Were They Thinking?: Unconventional Wisdom About Management.

Look for things you do now that you can delegate to others.

For successful delegation, look at each task and ask the following questions:

  • Is there someone else who has (or can be given) the necessary information or expertise to complete this? Essentially, is this a task that someone else can do or is it critical that you do it yourself?
  • Does this task provide an opportunity to grow and develop another person's skills?
  • Is this a task that will recur, in a similar form, in the future?
  • Do you have enough time to delegate the job effectively? Time must be available for adequate training, for questions and answers, for opportunities to check progress, and for rework if that is necessary.
  • Is this a task that you should delegate? Tasks critical for long-term success (for example, recruiting the right people for your team) genuinely do need your attention.

If you can answer ‘yes’ to at least some of these questions, consider delegating the task.


Look for things you do now that you shouldn’t be doing.

  • Are you keeping records or minutes that are never looked at?
  • Are you performing tasks or checks just because they have always been done?
  • Are you receiving reports you don’t read?
  • Are you holding meetings no one will be sorry to see abandoned?
  • Are you monitoring small things that aren’t worth your time (eg. petty cash, staff supplies, phone calls)?

A good test is to stop doing something and see if it is missed.

Time wasters shouldn’t be delegated. They should be dumped.

Making yourself dispensable is not the opposite of indispensable. Freeing yourself up does not then make you someone your organisation can do without; it makes you someone this (and any future) organisation can trust to make things happen reliably, repeatedly and consistently.

Food for Thought…

  • One day you will leave your role as manager of your early childhood centre.
  • It’s in your interests to plan for your own replacement.
  • You have a fiduciary responsibility to plan for your own replacement, too.
  • You can look to groom someone already in your centre to be your replacement.
  • You can make your own position less of a challenge for your replacement by automating, delegating and eliminating tasks; by making yourself dispensable.

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