On letting go: Make yourself redundant

Dependence on you shouldn't be a goal but something to avoid in the long term

Feels great to be needed. It reinforces your self-worth, you are useful to somebody else, great stuff for feeding your ego. But in the long term is it good to have people depending on you? It could be your coworkers ask for help about a tool, a stranger asking you online since you are an "expert", your kids asking you to help them with something. What is wrong with helping people?


Helping others is good, but if doing it repeatedly it doesn't encourage them to learn and be independent.  A few examples.


If you always provide a "solution" to your kids' problems, you never let your kid practice problem solving skills which are absolutely necessary in the real world.

"We give our love, our labor, our knowledge, and our experience-so that one day he or she (the kid) will have the inner strength and confidence to leave us." - How to talk so kids will Listen & Listen so kids will talk

And it takes restraint and self-discipline to not give advice when that is our default way. Sometimes it feels just easier and faster to help rather than teach something and let the other person fail, try, fail and learn. Next time you are tempted, ask yourself. Must I take over? Or can I put this other person in charge instead? Encourage autonomy! And be ready to fight your ego.

Letting go of control requires vulnerability. "Despite our feelings of pride in our children's progress and joy in their growing independence, there could also be the ache and the emptiness of no longer being needed."


I used to work managing Lean projects. While working in Tallinn I was responsible of a Lean initiative. I did too much, reminding the people about the projects, doing all the small changes myself, all the reports, presentations, helped them with the improvement projects etc. This was definitely not sustainable; the whole initiative was dependent on me. The moment they offered me an opportunity to continue doing the same in Spain and France it was too late...

A young Jose working with PULL systems


I rushed trying to teach people and delegate all the tasks, no need to explain that it didn't go too well. After I left the position, pretty much most of the projects fell through the cracks as people were dependent. It felt great at first to be needed and being in charge of an initiative. But it felt terrible to see that most of the work put in there was about to fade out.


So, when moving to Spain to work on Spanish and French factories with Lean initiatives and learning from the mistakes, my goal was clear: During this one year my goal is to implement a lean culture while making my role redundant. I took a different approach.


My job shifted from being the one doing everything to a mere facilitator.  Teaching the people about the lean principles, asking questions instead of giving orders, encouraging people to be responsible of the improvement projects, making sure everybody understood why we were doing Lean instead of "forcing" them.
By the end of the year, I just had to go to the daily improvement meetings to observe from a corner how the team was running the meetings and doing the improvements by themselves, sometimes they would ask me for an opinion but I would always try to minimize it. Mission accomplished, I made myself redundant, which gave me quite a lot of free time at work to focus on my next thing, which would be analytics.

Team running meetings independently


I did return after finishing the one year to review the status, and it was so satisfying to see that they had continued working, making improvements, solving problems all by themselves. The feeling of making them independent was much more fulfilling than the ego of feeling needed while in Tallinn.


Most things in life are a group effort, so what do you plan to achieve by holding the keys of knowledge/practice because it just feels good?


You can create a lifetime of journeys instead of being doing the same thing over and over.  You can then reinvent yourself and succeed time over time. Show how to fish instead of constantly giving the fish. Not only you will learn more by teaching others, but it gives you the freedom to pursue whatever you want once others are independent. So, why not make yourself redundant?