Cloning yourself

One of the highest compliments that a boss has ever paid me, has been “I wish I could clone you”. I work hard and I care about the work that I deliver. So, it feels nice to be recognized by my boss. One of my former bosses took it one step further. He said “No. Really, how can we do this? Can you train others to perform at the same level as you?”

I had never considered it before. My performance level is not by luck. It is the result of frequent self-evaluation and strategic growth. I am always thinking about ways that I can improve. I guess I could apply that same process to my co-workers. Better still, I could encourage and mentor them to evaluate and improve themselves. It seemed plausible.

Shortly after this discussion, my boss got things in motion. He rearranged my responsibilities. So instead of having me do the work, I would teach a few junior programmers how to do my work. At first, there were concerns that the work wouldn’t get done as quickly. However, those guys learned my best tricks, we got caught-up pretty quickly. Long story, short: it worked! We had two more people who were very-much like me (performance-wise).

If you are really good at what you do, your boss might ask the same thing of you, or maybe you would like to be the clone of a senior developer in your office? If so, you really should give it a try. The risk/reward is definitely leaning in your favor.

The process for “cloning yourself”


Before you start-off, you and your protégé(s) need to be committed to this endeavor. It helps to know what to expect, but more importantly, it really helps to understand the incentive for doing this. Ultimately, your incentives are: growth and advancement. Not everybody receives opportunities like this. Please make the most of it. Don’t hold yourself back.

First steps (101)

General strategy: off-load some of your work to a subordinate, advise/instruct, encourage growth, and monitor the progress.

  1. Analyze what you do, how you do it, and why
  2. Identify your priorities (and why/how you prioritize them that way)
  3. Pick-off a few easy tasks and one or two medium tasks. Assign them to your protégé.
  4. Allow time for the tasks to be completed
  5. Review the progress/outcome
  6. Deliver your evaluation, with explanations, and give guidance for improvement (as well as praise for accomplishments)
  7. Repeat and expand (raise the bar)

Second level (201)

General strategy: get this person to start thinking like you.

  1. Break your work into “zones” (projects, products)
  2. Identify what work falls within each zone. Start-off a little vague, so the person can use his wits to take-over the zone.
  3. Assign a zone to the person and ask him to fill-in the details. Start walking him through the process of filling-in the detail and then hand it off.
  4. Review the work and suggest (iterative, increasing) improvements.
  5. Eventually, add a 2nd or 3rd zone.

Third level (301)

General strategy: treat this person like a peer. You prepare yourself to move up to a different level of abstraction.

  1. Talk about which zones each person has, and compare notes.
  2. Discuss “double zone coverage”. Eg. each zone must have a primary and secondary owner. That way, when a person gets a day-off, the zone is still covered. Discuss which zones could/should be traded with each-other. You will be the secondary to a few zones and therefore, will answer to this person on occasion.
  3. Introduce the idea of this person becoming a mentor and how this person could organize his work so some of it can be assigned to a subordinate (just like you did in 101)
  4. Talk about the challenges that you faced as you went through this and your mistakes and lessons-learned.

Fourth level (401)

General strategy: become a mentor of mentors. Encourage this person to outgrow you.
Ultimately, this is what my best superiors did for me. If they had not, then I might not have become the person that I am today. I have mentored several people who have greatly surpassed me. Some of them have come back around to repay the favor and have mentored me in a few things. It felt awkward at first, but we quickly got beyond the awkwardness and I graciously thanked the other person for taking the time to share with me.

In the end, perhaps the final lesson that I could share, was humility, graciousness and gratitude. I myself, would not have grown, if I had not had the chance to mentor others. This was the final lesson that I have learned from my best bosses. Ultimately, it has been the hardest thing for me to embrace. Humbling myself, seems like the opposite of elitism. However, without humility and self-awareness, you will always be the one who holds yourself back.


About Tim Golisch

I'm a geek. I do geeky things.
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