9 Tips for Being Irreplaceable at Work (Part 2 of 2)

While thinking about all that you are and have to bring to your clients, colleagues, and employers, consider how they know you add value. My assertion here is that being awesome isn’t enough. Someone else, and hopefully someone who matters, must know exactly what you bring and how it makes you indispensable—irreplaceable if you will. Seth Godin, author and thought leader, describes irreplaceable people in organizations as “linchpins”. 

In my consulting work, I meet an unfortunately low number of people who describe themselves as linchpins. How do I know? I ask around. At the beginning of any consulting engagement, I actively seek out people in the organization with ideas about how to “make things better around here.” Those ideas shouldn’t come from me, I’m a tourist. I mean, I care. But I’m going home at the end of the engagement. Linchpins are the people who will continue to live in the organization long after I leave. They have more skin in the game and perspective than any consultant. So, I seek them out to help me get a sense of the organization’s capacity. Yep, linchpins often help me understand how much capacity—ability to grow—is possessed by an organization. With this perspective, I know how hard to push and in what direction. 

Here’s the other great thing about linchpins—they can be incredibly influential.

They might not be influential as soon as they join the organization or in all circumstances, but they are the people who, armed with belief in their ideas and their organization’s ability, build strategic alliances and create breakthrough experiences. They stick their necks out when others are protecting their necks like turtles tucked safely inside their shells. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not encouraging you to go into your next meeting like a bull in a China shop, pushing an idea that’s been percolating only in your head for weeks. Influence is more than just having a great idea—it’s about understanding and being able to carefully navigate the environment and relationships needed to get the idea socialized and considered viable by others. 

Alas, I think there’s more linchpin potential out there but so many of the people I meet in organizations are paralyzed by fear, waiting for the “person in charge” to give direction. The leadership challenge is being able to get beyond fear of exposure or perceived weakness in times when others are in need of a new approach. Indispensable people are able to let go, at least temporarily, of the need for approval. Assume that coloring in the lines is for the boring and the brainwashed! Let go of the little voice in your head that so desperately wants an “A.” Know that you have inside the ability, and the courage, to create something—a relationship, a culture within your unit, a new product or system, or offering—that others may not immediately approve of or understand but that adds value. 

Making Yourself Irreplaceable

  1. Believe you are irreplaceable. Mindset is so important. This does not mean bolstering your ego. Instead, muster a healthy amount of self-confidence that is supported by effort and achievement. 
  2. Own your uniqueness. Other people don’t always have to “get you.” Let your unique ideas, ways of thinking, and expression be a strength. This means lean into it, making sure your uniqueness is always seen as a value-add to the team, the organization, and your mission. 
  3. Pull your head up, away from the fires and the tedious tasks, and look around. Linchpins find opportunities to affect systems, not just cross off the ever-replenishing “to-do” list items.
  4. Turn ideas into action. The world is filled with people posturing, portraying themselves as having more or accomplishing more than they do. Differentiate yourself by DOING. Think, strategize, put solid plans in place, and follow through. Your good ideas are only as credible as what you can actually make happen. 
  5. Find, acknowledge, embrace, and cultivate your creativity. Many of us spend much of the day using the left sides of our brains—the analytical, objective, “there is ONE right answer” side. Find ways to tap into the right side of your brain more regularly—the intuitive, thoughtful, and subjective side. Take an art class or a walk through an art gallery during your lunch break. 
  6. Nurture your emotional intelligence. We may want to take objective approaches to leading, but in reality, we live in subjective organizations where being able to read subtle cues, use intuition, and thoughtfully navigate your own emotions and those of others (emotional intelligence) are invaluable characteristics.
  7. Nurture multi-layered relationships. Invest in relationships with people in a 360-degree relationship to you, which allows you to develop an array of perspectives and skills, and keeps you in learner mode. This group should include, at a minimum, people you admire, are willing to open doors for you, can teach you something, have effective habits, and whom you can mentor. 
  8. Access your whole self. We are more than just heads sitting propped up on hunched shoulders, slouching over computers. Stand up. Take a walk. Stop thinking about work—several times per day. Incorporate walking meditation into each day: letting yourself be overwhelmed by the beauty of the trees changing color or feel the crisp November air on your face while freeing your mind of negative thoughts. Then go back to your work feeling refreshed and open to new ideas for solving the problems that will inevitably remain just where you left them.
  9. Help others. Show yourself to be a team player and willing to step up and take on opportunities to be helpful to others without being asked or in need of reward.
    Helping others allows you to:
    a. deepen your skill set (teaching someone is a wonderful way to learn)
    b. gather additional insight about a system that may need to be changed
    c. demonstrate your expertise

There truly is only one you. Celebrate that. Embrace your individuality, see yourself as part of something larger,  and recognize that your unique contributions are your strengths. 

-- DeEtta

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DeEtta Jones & Associates (DJA) guides leaders and organizations on a journey that builds capacity, strengthens innovation, and increases organizational performance by creating a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive environment.

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