Being Irreplaceable.

Being Irreplaceable

Max Weber was a 20th century German sociologist, philosopher and political economist who developed some of today’s well-known management theories. These theories influenced how the worker came to be seen as a tool for organisational growth.

For example, office seating arrangements to better manage absenteeism was in part his idea. The process of managing talent via apprenticeship such that we get the most of them, and even lighting up a work area are all supported by his work.

Again, the usage of first name only among members of an organisation irrespective of age to engender a commonality of purpose and a focus on results.

This side stepped cultural attachments to seniority whereby younger minds keep silent as the older ‘more experienced’ colleagues made occasional but avoidable blunders in judgment.

Organisations largely assume that talent for the most part is replaceable, or at least should not have holding power over the fortunes of an organisation such that their exit is guarded against at all costs.

The general thinking seems to be that the organisation should never depend on the best players as this shifts the centre of power and could makes the ship somewhat difficult to control.

It is said that an individual cannot possibly hold an organisation’s performance to ransom (either for good or bad) through ability, network or unique set of skills. To this end, firms have backup plans for the potential exit of any player in a bid to sustain performance.

Still, business leaders would agree that some individuals are almost impossible to replace.

This also makes any present or future negotiations on roles, responsibilities and rewards trickier. Thing is, every once in a while, there are those who make the difference and in many respects cannot be replaced or, where would France be without its Napoleon, the US without its Washington?

There was Alexander the Great whose drive for expansion is still studied in many business schools, colleges of war, and even during executive retreats. How does someone expand so far so quickly? Irrespective of the track record, strength or standing of the enemy, Alexander always won and was known to be magnanimous in victory.

How does an organisation plan for the replacement of such a contributor? Are there a special schools where Alexanders are trained – given matchless drive and an all-consuming desire to win?

During World War 2, Sir Winston Churchill galvanized what would become the allies to bring the advancement of the sweeping German army to a halt. Now, whether it was before during or after his leadership of Great Britain there are assortments of failures from which to choose from.

One could even look at this appearance and hurriedly conclude that he couldn’t be much of a threat even as other countries were either contemplating advanced surrender or looking for ways to negotiate some form of truce with the Germany.

One could argue he wasn’t morally sound, lacked finesse, spoke too much or unearth whatever list of weaknesses history has been kind enough to forget. Still he stood up when it mattered and made the tough calls no one else wanted to make.

There are no leadership programs that produce Churchills, Napoleons or Alexanders.

There are certain kinds of people that can’t be replaced, or if they can, at a significant cost. And cost not only in terms of resources, but the opportunity cost of ideas that would have brought to the table. It could also be that aggressive can do spirit, infectious winning attitude or boundless belief in the vision of the organisation.

The departure of these ‘irreplaceables’ can’t be completely hedged against and organisations are almost powerless when it comes to getting a replacement. They are the ones who the key man risk don’t cover, central to the firm’s strategy and it would be a journey into the land of pretense if we said it wasn’t so.

Therefore, I suggest a different strategy, the creation of the right environment for innovative talent, where leadership prepares to be wrong sometimes (and that without much evidence) and listens to what they say. Now, as hard as it sounds this is the easy part – that is, when they have shown clear signs of ability.

A more difficult road (with greater rewards) is finding them when they, like Napoleon in his early years, are yet to get an assignment, or like Churchill, yet to get a seat in government, or like Alexander unable to ride a horse.

When they look incapable of becoming the powerhouse they are capable of becoming.

So, I suspect firms are likely to be divided along two principal lines – those that see talent before it becomes clear for others to see and nurture it to the point of mastery, creating company loyalty at levels strangely heard of today. Or those who wait for talent to become as bright as the noon day sun and pay a king’s ransom for their services.

Individual talent can choose to become the talent everyone wants to have in their team that is personal development to the point of mastery.

This is the challenge.

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