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I was recently asked by a former executive client how I've made myself indispensable. He had been asked by a professional women's organization to give a lecture on the topic and wanted some input. I had to give the question some serious consideration. I thought about the implications of the question and, if I was in his shoes, what I would want to say. This is what I shared.
I find the question interesting and a bit disconcerting. Is there any value in asking ourselves, 'How have I made myself indispensable?' By definition 'indispensable' means 'absolutely necessary' implying that organizations cannot do without them. However, we all know that people leave, circumstances change, markets evolve, technologies disrupt, 'coup d'etats' unravel nations and so on. Different types of individuals become indispensable – perhaps – in certain circumstances, in certain contexts, but it's not everlasting and the impact is never infinite.
Since being indispensable is temporal, professionals would do well to ask themselves, 'why am I asking myself this question?' If the answer circles around notions of job security and demand in the market then these notions will only lead to disappointment. We are all subject to context (operational, organizational, market, political) – even the most senior leaders.
Sometimes corporations seem to make radical shifts in their leadership. If you look 'under the covers' you may observe that these types of changes are reflections of changing needs. A bank, for example, at a time when they are losing market share, may hire a leader with expertise in customer strategy and channel management. That same bank may make a big change if it is slammed with security regulation compliance violations and hire a CEO who has strength in making radical governance reforms. So, context is key to deciphering who may be indispensable at any given moment in history.
Some of the social media discussions about this issue suggest that being a 'generalist' rather than a 'specialist' is the key to indispensability.
I'd prefer to frame the thinking around valuable capabilities. Here are some of the top capabilities that I believe add value, are highly transferable across industries, and can be cultivated and nurtured.
Being able to state the problem
The ability to gather and examine various types of information and distill the salient points and then articulate them is a key skill. The more insightful the points, the greater the value. The more effectively the points are articulated, the easier it will be for others to rally around the insights.
Being able to connect the dots
Cultivating understanding requires individuals who can paint a picture that people truly understand and can make the connection between the information and what it means. Key questions to help articulate interpretation include: what are the issues?; what are the implications for the organization?; what are the potential risks and advantages? Considering these points facilitates real discussion and debate encourages thoughtful decisions to be made.
Be a facilitator
There are individuals in organizations with this title, and sometimes they are also called, mediators, or negotiators. The fundamental skills of these individuals are valuable because they help to overcome roadblocks and barriers in devising or implementing a solution. They can be catalysts.
Even if your role doesn't include 'facilitator' in the job description, you will always do well to develop this capability, since your role will help to facilitate thoughtful progress.
Combined, these are powerful capabilities that will contribute to anyone's career progression and opportunities. They will allow you to find new avenues to explore ideas and devise options to improve the organizations where you work.
People with these skills will go to organizations that need reflection and action.
Focusing on being 'indispensable' won't encourage you to develop the right skills and capabilities. So instead, find ways to add value to your role.
Nina Dhar is a Toronto-based management consultant.