Learn Up. Train Down.

There is a great scene in “We Were Soldiers” where Mel Gibson says; “Learn the job of the man above you and teach your job to the man below. We will be landing under fire gentlemen… Men will die.”

It has been said that the measure of a great leader is this, that in his or her absence, the organization will continue to function in precisely the same manner. For the leader, this is both honoring and terrifying.

I remember telling my leaders that if we get to the point where someone else can run this organization better than me, I will happily step aside. I said that because I believed (rightly so) that the organization was the most important thing. But, did I actually believe that I would step aside? Of that, I am not so convinced… It sounded like a dignified statement from me as their leader, but each time I said it I trembled inside.

It’s kind of the same as confidently saying that we could die for our faith or for our country. It is easy to say when the chances are slight that we will ever be tested in that manner. Each of us hopes that it is the truth, but we will never know unless put to the test.

Learning Up

Learning up is easy for many of us. In fact, we see it as preparation for promotion. Thinking back on a previous employment, I remember the moment I knew I would be moving into my next position, I made every effort to learn the job of my superior. I went with him to meetings, learned from him, asked him questions, and prepared to take his place. His allowing me to learn from him said more about his character than it did mine. I wonder if he ever hesitated to teach me when he knew I desired to replace him? I doubt it. He understood the second principle, Train Down.

Train Down

The transformational leader trains his direct reports to fill his shoes. A nominal leader avoids training others in intricacies of their position. The reason is most often a fear of being replaced or deemed unnecessary. However, when the transformational leader understands that the organization is the priority, he will allow others to learn what they need to learn to advance the missional causes of the whole. If this means that he becomes unnecessary, then so be it.

HOWEVER…

Most of the time, the resulting team-building and empowerment solidifies the leader in his position and further empowers him to lead the group or team. In other words, great value is found in that leader. When he actively trains to become replaceable, he becomes indispensable.