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INDISPENSABLE - it's a trap trying to become it


“I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple's CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come."

Steve Jobs bowed out of the company for health reasons, and the company struggled to survive. Later he returned triumphantly to rescue it from oblivion.


Some people do succeed in becoming indispensable in their respective fields or companies. For example, Brendan is a coder who writes software for a critical function of his organisation. He’s the only one who fully understands how it works and can troubleshoot and fix any issues. For a while, he becomes indispensable as the only one who can maintain and update the software as needed.


Do you aspire to be indispensable? Maybe that will make you feel more secure and less vulnerable in an era where the dreaded AI may loom. Yet is being indispensable a route to work happiness? In many ways, it can become something a burden as more and more pressure gets directed your way.


Still, what exactly will it take if you'd like to become more in demand at work?

7 WAYS TO BECOME INVALUABLE

There are at least seven ways that you can start to make yourself almost indispensable at work.


  • SKILL SET: You could develop a unique set of skills or expertise vital to the success of your organisation.

  • ABOVE & BEYOND: Another way is to go the extra mile in your work consistently and constantly take on new tasks and responsibilities.

  • RELATIONSHIPS: One of the most reliable ways to be highly valued at work is to develop strong relationships with clients or customers--that way, you become a crucial point of contact for your organisation.

  • LEADER: Another reliable way is to become an effective leader who manages and motivates your team.

  • TROUBLESHOOTER: This is a more traditional way in which you grow your expertise in solving problems quickly and efficiently.

  • COMMUNICATOR: Somebody who can clearly articulate the organisation’s goals and objectives to clients and team members will soon attract attention, and if you are consistent at this, you may soon acquire a reputation that builds your indispensability.

  • ADAPTABILITY: If you acquire the ability to respond to change readily and to handle unexpected challenges that arise in the workplace, you will build your value within your organisation, It might not make you entirely indispensable, but it's likely to build your personal brand.

IS BEING INDISPENSABLE A MISTAKE?

It’s generally not wrong as long as you do what your work requires and contributes to the team’s or the organisation’s success.


Organisations will only tolerate relying heavily on you for a short time. Excessive reliance creates problems if you then become unavailable. In 2008, Lehman Brothers were one of the largest investment banks in the world. However, the company faced significant challenges due to the financial crisis and relied heavily on a few key individuals, including CEO Richard Fuld.


When the financial crisis hit, the company needed the leadership and direction of these key individuals to function. Eventually, it went bankrupt. Despite the challenges, other companies were able to weather the financial crisis and emerge stronger, demonstrating that no one person is genuinely indispensable.


In the 1970s and 1980s, Kodak was the dominant player in the film and photography industry. However, the company struggled to adapt to the digital age, and by 2012, Kodak was on the verge of bankruptcy. One factor contributing to the company's decline was that Kodak relied heavily on its CEO, George Fisher. He was known for his strong leadership and strategic vision, and when he retired in 1999, Kodak struggled to find a suitable replacement and eventually went bankrupt.


In the early 2010s, Theranos, a biotech start-up, claimed to have developed a revolutionary blood-testing technology. The company's CEO, Elizabeth Holmes, was hailed as a visionary and became one of the youngest self-made billionaires in the world. The company's reliance on Holmes as the driving force behind its success ultimately led to its downfall. In 2015, it was revealed that the company's technology was not as effective as claimed, and Holmes was charged with fraud and is now in prison.


More recently, Disney struggled to continue its long-running success under the new leadership of Bob Chapek. He was chosen as the replacement for the previous long-standing CEO Bob Igor. There seemed to be no viable replacement for Igor, and he returned as the indispensable CEO the company desperately needed.


Yet in his memoir “The Ride of a Lifetime Iger himself recognised that even good leadership “isn’t about being indispensable.” He argued that it was more about helping others be ready to step into your shoes.”


THE DANGERS

Trying to become indispensable can lead to burnout, create dependence, and limit your career opportunities.

It’s essential to maintain a healthy work-life balance and avoid becoming over-invested in your job. That can happen if it starts to consume your entire time and energy. It is essential to recognise the value of other team members and to work together rather than trying to be the only one who can do a particular task.

If you’re the only one able to do a specific task or perform a particular role, you may take on too much work, become overwhelmed and cease to be fully productive. Too much dependence on you may be stressful, putting pressure on you to always be available, even when you need time off or cannot work.


So it's worth thinking hard about attempting reaching to become indispensable in your current role. First, will it actually help your organisation or make it harder to replace you? Second, it may also make moving on to other opportunities or promotions within your organisation harder.


Further reading:


L. Wiseman, Should You Really Be “Indispensable” at Work? HBR, September 20, 2022, https://hbr.org/2022/09/should-you-really-be-indispensable-at-work

A. Sicinski, 11 Critical lessons for becoming indispensable at work, IQ Matrix, https://blog.iqmatrix.com/becoming-indispensable

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