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The Significance of Stepping Aside

Courtney Lynch, January 27, 2020

The Significance of Stepping Aside 
I delivered my twin daughters via emergency c-section.  Due to a variety of complications, the surgery went south very quickly.  Barely conscious, I wasn’t aware of the details at the time, yet I could sense that something was going very wrong.  The babies were fine, I was the one at risk.  In the haze of it all, I remember my doctor offering comfort, telling me that the surgical trauma team was on its way.  He had stepped back, to let others take charge.  If he hadn’t realized he wasn’t the best person for the job, it’s a real possibility I wouldn’t be here to share this story with you.

Weeks later in his office we spoke about the delivery.  He confided that it was my delivery that made him realize it was time for him to retire from labor and delivery work.  He’d still see patients in the office, but after more than four decades of attending births, that part of his career was over.  I valued his candor and self-awareness as he shared how it was time to step aside. 

It’s natural as someone nears retirement age to contemplate succession planning.  Yet some of the strongest leaders I’ve met have made stepping aside a habit earlier in their careers.  They work to empower others at every opportunity, knowing that allowing someone else to grow is one of the most valuable actions you can take as a leader.

Reflect on the teams you are a part of.  Where can you step aside?  Consider these factors:

Recognize which aspects of your work have become routine.  When something becomes easy for you to do, the lack of challenge can contribute to average performance.  If you notice there are parts of your job that you can do with little effort, consider who might value learning to do what you’ve mastered.  Give them a chance to shine.

Identify junior strong performers who are ready for more.  Notice who is ready to be empowered and make it a point to mentor and coach them on the duties of your role that will be valuable to ensuring their growth or future promotion.

Swapping duties with a peer can make a difference to you both.  Stepping aside doesn’t always mean someone with less experience will be taking over for you.  One way to bring new challenge to your work is to trade responsibilities with a peer.  Cross training not only leads to new learning, it also gives you both new opportunities for success.

Growing as a leader doesn’t always require leveling up.  Stepping aside and empowering others is a significant mark of leadership done well. 

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