Given the rapid pace of change in most organizations, it is likely that you have—at least on occasion—considered the value you add (and what you have invested in it). Value is the return on investment benefit that your company enjoys because of your unique contribution to clients, colleagues and work product. It also includes things like how you enhance the company brand, introduce innovative approaches or facilitate breakthrough solutions that impact the bottom-line. The degree of value you uniquely bring to your company is directly correlated with your irreplaceability.
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There are an unfortunately low number of people who would describe themselves as irreplaceable. When a new boss comes onboard, or an existing employee is promoted to a managerial position, often their first step is to actively seek out people with ideas about “making things better around the office.” These individuals can be called the “linchpins,” and they are the ones who have lived and will continue to live in the organization long after the incoming boss is gone. They have more skin in the game—and perspective—so seeking them out will aid the manager in assessing the organization’s capacity—their ability to grow.
Here’s the other great thing about irreplaceable people—they can be incredibly influential. They might not be influential at first or all the time, 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 in protecting their necks mode, like turtles tucked safely inside their shells. The expectation is not that you go into your next meeting like a bull in a china shop, pushing an idea that’s been percolating 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.
Tips for making yourself irreplaceable:
1. Believe you are irreplaceable. Confidence is HUGE. If you don’t see your contribution, or potential contribution, as valuable, how will others?
2. Be political. Political savvy is one of the most difficult skills to teach, yet one of the most crucial, particularly for achieving C-Suite ambitions. Being political does not mean failing to listen or be influenced by other points of view. In fact, some of the most influential leaders are distinguished by their careful and authentic consideration of alternatives.
3. Pull your head up, away from the fires and the tedious tasks, and look around. Irreplaceable people find opportunities to effect systems, not just cross off the ever-replenishing “to do” list items.
4. 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 take a walk through an art gallery during your lunch break. Though it is common to want to take objective approaches to leading, in reality, you live in subjective organizations where being able to read subtle cues, use intuition, and thoughtfully navigate your own emotion and those of others are invaluable characteristics.
5. 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 air on your face while freeing your mind of negative thoughts. Then go back to your workplace feeling refreshed and open to new ideas for solving the problems that will inevitably still be just where you left them.
6. 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 need of reward.
Helping others allows you to deepen your skillset (teaching someone is a wonderful way to learn), gather additional insight about a system that may need to be changed, and demonstrate your expertise.
One of the greatest inhibitors of people’s full potential is fear, waiting for the “person in charge” to give direction, even when the person in charge is paralyzed by fear himself. 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 nor understand, but that adds value to truly make you peerless in your organization.
DeEtta Jones is a leadership strategist, social justice advocate and author. She has more than 20 years of experience working with individual leaders and teams in some of the world’s most prominent universities and corporations. Her multidimensional background and fresh perspective leaves clients feeling heard and empowered to take on some of the major organizational and workforce challenges of our times. For more information or to have DeEtta speak at your next event, please visit http://www.deettajones.com.