Some (rather pessimistic) bosses live by the mantra, “Everyone is replaceable.” And while it may be true that there is always someone who can take over the responsibilities in your job description if you were to leave, there are ways to ensure that it’s really, really hard to completely fill your role.
So, what’s the secret to becoming a unique, coveted asset to your company and team? Seth Godin discusses being indispensable in his book, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?, posing this interesting question: What would your company look for if it wanted to replace you with someone better?
The answer, he explains, isn’t what you might expect:
I think it’s unlikely that they’d seek out someone willing to work more hours, or someone with more industry experience, or someone who could score better on a standardized test. No, the competitive advantage the marketplace demands is someone more human, connected, and mature. Someone with passion and energy, capable of seeing things as they are and negotiating multiple priorities as she makes useful decisions without angst. Flexible in the face of change, resilient in the face of confusion. All of these attributes are choices, not talents, and all of them are available to you.
In other words—what makes you irreplaceable isn’t a set of skills or experiences, it’s you. And that’s great news! A great fear of modern workers is that robots will replace them one day, but someone (or something) who can work better, faster, or more efficiently isn’t what employers are looking for at all. In fact, if you want to be indispensible, it’s important to bring to the table what no robot ever could.
Here are a few ways to get started being the linchpin of your office.
The difference between a good employee and a great one (and definitely between a human and a robot) is how well you connect with other people. Leverage that. Time spent communicating, interacting, and building relationships with your colleagues and clients alike is time well spent. As the great Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
To be irreplaceable, you need others to see you as irreplaceable. To do this, stand out for being solution-oriented, not someone who points out (or worse, avoids) problems. Don’t be that person who always thinks, “That’s not my job.” Anyone (or any robot) can follow a task list or a job description, but the truly irreplaceable people are the ones who take initiative to troubleshoot and to identify solutions.
Lastly, it doesn’t hurt to have something you’re particularly good at—something that you bring to the table that no one else does. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a skill—it can be trait or even a personality quirk. Think of it as your superpower. As Sarah Chang explains, “It’s the quality you’re most proud of, the one thing that makes you stand out, and what gives you an edge over everyone else.”
Altogether, if your goal is to become essential, make sure your plan includes building and maintaining positive relationships, taking the lead on solving the problems others are afraid to, and honing in on your specialty. And, of course, being a little human.
Photo of sheep courtesy of Shutterstock.
Lily Zhang serves as a Manager of Graduate Student Professional Development at the MIT Media Lab where she works with a range of students from AI experts to interaction designers. When she’s not indulging in a new book or video game, she’s thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.More from this Author