Train Your Replacement

By | January 24, 2019

[January 24, 2019]  As a very young boy I marveled at the Sparrows that nested in a giant oak tree located in our backyard.  At only two weeks old these fledglings would have their first try at flight.  Upon leaving my first company command, as a U.S. Army Captain, I remembered that time as a young boy, the baby sparrows, and growing up.  I also thought of the parallel between those tiny birds being taught to fly and the military’s guidance to train your replacement.

As a leader, the fact is that someday you will no longer be in that position you now hold.  Whether you are being promoted to a more senior leader position, retiring, or moving on to another job, the idea of training your replacement can come with trepidation.  Leaders are very busy people.  Training someone to take on those responsibilities can be resource intensive and difficult effort even in the best of times.

Your replacement may have been someone you have chosen or someone in your organization or, in some cases, a replacement leader is involuntarily imposed upon you.  Good leaders are always in the business of training other leaders so the idea of your own replacement should not be so challenging.  Right?  Perhaps but most of us will have some consternation about both how the process will proceed and whether that person will be successful.

If you have not thought about this issue, then you are already on the wrong fork in the road of your leadership pathway.  Training your replacement will be difficult mainly because you are most familiar with the hard work, risks taken, and difficult decisions made that got you here in the first place.  It will be difficult to communicate this knowledge in so little time.

With luck, there will be some overlap with you.  This allows the implicit responsibility to train your replacement a better chance of success.  In many cases there will be an under lap where you will have departed before your replacement arrives.  If you have been a good leader and mentored those around you, they will be the key for the future trainers of any incoming leader.

Here is the best advice.  Go the extra mile to provide to the new leader all the key information that they must have to succeed in the first few days on the job.1  This includes those pieces of informal information like where everyone likes to go for lunch.  While you should be available for that person if they have questions, let them know that they are fully responsible from their first day.


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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

20 thoughts on “Train Your Replacement

  1. Lynn Pitts

    Yes! The US military, in particular, makes it abundantly clear that you will train your replacement and, in addition, you have some informal responsibility on how well they perform after you are gone. I once got a call from my old company commander who berated me on my replacement (whom I did not choose, by the way). Those of us who have held responsible positions know that we will be judged forward by those who come behind us.

    1. Delf A. "Jelly" Bryce

      This is true also in the FBI and several other large, complex orgs that take leadership seriously.

  2. Wilson Cox

    Your articles recently have harked me back to my days as a little boy growing up on a farm in Minnesota. Thanks for sparking those old times for me.

    1. Scotty Bush

      I was thinking the same thing and perhaps that is why I keep coming back here.

    2. Dale Paul Fox

      I’m from west Pennsylvania, north of Pittsburgh. I too remember growing up in a rural part of the state and how things have changed so much for me.

    1. Roger Yellowmule

      Haven’t seen your comments in a while Yusaf. Are you keeping West Texas from going crazy like New York City or LA?

      1. Yusaf from Texas

        Where you from, Roger? I live in Lubbock, TX.

    2. Roger Yellowmule

      Bose City, the panhandle where many from the Comanche tribe are still living a good living.

  3. AutisticTechie

    I remember training my ‘replacement’ my contract was past up and rolling over costing the company money, they hired some directly rather then through an agency, I trained him up on processes and systems for about a month before I left

    1. Max Foster

      Welcome to the comment section of Gen. Satterfield’s blog. I hope you’ve been reading it for a while. We welcome everyone here regardless of viewpoint.

  4. Mr. T.J. Asper

    Train your replacement so this is the person who will ensure everyone crosses the finish line at the same time.

  5. Greg Heyman

    It is time to seek out the individual that has the blend of complex physical, emotional, intellectual, interpersonal traits coupled with forward vision that has the potential to be what your organization needs. The person who has the gleam in their eye because they clearly see a path forward for the organization which raises their pulse, keeps them awake at night thinking about a future bounded only by their imagination and not confined by your lanes.

  6. Janna Faulkner

    Quoatable quote “If you have not thought about this issue, then you are already on the wrong fork in the road of your leadership pathway. ” This is exactly spot on. Thanks Gen. Satterfield for going straight to the point.

  7. Army Captain

    This should be required reading for all junior leaders. It’s not just about senior leaders but every person who ever lead anything will eventually leave and thus need to be replaced.

    1. Jerome Smith

      Thanks for your service to our country, Army Captain. I always enjoy reading your comments each morning.

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