The best decision I ever made as a leader was choosing to make my role obsolete

pixelfit/Getty ImagesMaking yourself obsolete gives you more space for other opportunities.
  • Nancy Richardson is the founder and principal strategist of Dragon Lady and CEO of Mum ‘n’ Pop Shop. Rochelle Davidson is the chief embolden officer at Rochelle Davidson Coaching.
  • The following is an excerpt from their book, “Work Freely: Love Your Job. Love Your Life.”
  • In it, Richardson says that she found herself constantly thinking of peers as competition, and constantly working as hard as she could to advance – but that meant her leadership was lacking. So she decided to lead as though she was making her role obsolete.
  • Davidson, her executive life coach, said that leading to make your role obsolete creates more space for new opportunities. It will also make people genuinely want to follow you.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

In the first 10 years of my career, I pushed as hard as I could, constantly comparing myself to others, always trying to prove I was worthy. I saw my peers as competition and judged those who were in positions I felt I deserved. My view was that you only have one shot in your lifetime to get to the top, and I intended to make the most of it. And yet, I kept getting overlooked. Things weren’t progressing fast enough. The world was moving so quickly while my advancement felt like it was moving at a snail’s pace.

Work Freely: Love Your Job. Love Your Life.Courtesy of Nancy Richardson and Rochelle DavidsonWork Freely: Love Your Job. Love Your Life.

I couldn’t understand why this was happening when I was working so hard, putting in a massive number of hours, and delivering on my responsibilities. I didn’t realise at the time that, although I was delivering on the functional requirements of my job, my leadership was severely lacking. And because of this, the good work I did was being overshadowed by who I was being and how I showed up. I constantly got in the way of myself – pulled into the office gossip, dragged down by daily frustrations, and consumed by reorgs, reporting structures, and titles.

My drive, raw determination, and tenacity were the qualities that got me to this point, but they also would cause me to fail and hit a ceiling if I continued down this path. To access the next level of leadership that would propel me forward, I needed to take a fundamentally different approach.


And so I decided to make my role obsolete

Kristine ArthNancy Richardson.

I wasn’t planning to go anywhere. However, I knew that if I approached each day with the intention of making my role obsolete, I would become more of a teacher. I’d be more focused on educating and developing capable teams and less focused on helping and advancing my own career. This process required a level of vulnerability that made me feel uncomfortable.

I made it a ritual to remind myself of this every day before I went in to work. It was like flexing a muscle until it became a habit. I discovered there was enormous power in saying “I trust you.” Whenever I would say it, people would light up and take on a greater sense of responsibility and pride in their work. I vividly remember one circumstance at Lululemon, about three years in, when I had to take a sudden trip because of a family emergency. I named one of the brand managers as my proxy without hesitation. She was a smart, strategic entrepreneur who found ways to get things done with quality on a shoestring budget.

Within 24 hours of leaving town, I got a text from her that said, “We decided to make a video. We need you to approve it so we can post it on YouTube today. We have a goal of getting to one million likes in a week.” Instead of looking at the video, I trusted her to approve it herself and keep running. She and the team spent three dollars on a carton of almond milk, produced the video with three people, and hit one million likes in less than a week. It was pure gold.

When I returned, the floor was buzzing with excitement spurred on by a great idea executed with passion and heart. This continued to happen over and over again. I was surprised by what people were capable of when they were trusted and given the space to create. It required getting out of my own head, being generous instead of protective, developing and trusting others, and then letting go. We called this “the work of the work.”


Get coached

Kristine ArthRochelle Davidson.

What do you experience when you consider working to make your role obsolete? Excitement? Determination? Scepticism? Doubt? If you are less than keen about it, you are not alone. Most leaders do not strive to work themselves out of a job. After all, it could mean giving up something that you love, that fulfils you, that challenges you. And if you give away your responsibilities to your team, then what will you do?

But leaders who strive to make themselves obsolete don’t see it as losing something; they see it as gaining something: space. Space to mentor, coach, and delegate. By developing your people to take on your responsibilities, you create space for new opportunities, bigger problems to tackle, higher-stakes games to play, or deeper, more meaningful connection to what is most important to you. It gives you space to live into your legacy in bigger and more impactful ways.

It relies on you hiring people who are smarter, brighter, and different than you, and allowing them to shine. It sometimes depends on you giving up the driver’s seat and letting go of having to do things your way.

This is much easier if you are clear on what you are gaining. What is your motivation? For some, it is the deep satisfaction of developing an exceptional team of leaders for the world – an expression of purpose. For others, it is about gaining the time to take on their next big goals or having the space to start thinking about what those next big goals might be.


What will you gain from making your role obsolete?

mixetto/Getty ImagesAsk yourself some questions to determine what kind of leader you are, and what kind you want to be.

Connect with what you do and don’t want to be as a leader, and answer these questions:

• What do I need to start doing?

• What do I need to stop doing?

• Who do I need to start being?

• Who do I need to stop being?

What stands out for you? What do you see as important? How do your values show up? Where does fear creep in? What will you commit to today? This week? Next week? Next month? How will you hold yourself accountable?

Your success will become evident when people start to genuinely follow you because they want to, not because they have to – and your advancement will feel natural and effortless.

Nancy Richardson began her career with a BA from the University of Washington and MBA from Ohio State University. After more than 20 years of working in large, corporate environments, including Starbucks and Lululemon – she decided to design her own life by tapping into the era of startups and passion projects, building meaningful brands, and working from home to spend more time with her family. She is the founder and principal strategist of Dragon Lady and CEO of Mum ‘n’ Pop Shop. Her mission is to embolden the workforce of the future. She can be reached on LinkedIn and at Mum ‘n’ Pop Shop and Work Freely.

Rochelle Davidson, CPCC, ACC, is chief embolden officer at Rochelle Davidson Coaching. Her purpose is to embolden and equip people and organisations to create their unique impact in the world. With a BA in business from the University of British Columbia and a MA in applied behavioural sciences from Bastyr University, she is at her best when partnering with leaders to create healthy employees and workplaces to get results that really matter. Rochelle is a proud cancer survivor and this experience has further fuelled her mission to see people and organisations thrive, not merely survive. Rochelle is a certified professional coach, credentialed through International Coach Federation and Coaches Training Institute. Rochelle lives a life she loves in Vancouver, Canada. She can be reached on LinkedIn, at WorkFreely.co, and at rochelledavidson.com.


Their new book
, “Work Freely: Love Your Job. Love Your Life.” is available on WorkFreely.co, Amazon, and other fine booksellers.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.