We’ve seen it play out time and again in the workplace. An employee works diligently to carve out a niche. She becomes an expert in a field, a real ‘go-to’ person around critical issues. She heeds the advice she’s heard about how getting ahead boils down to making one’s self indispensable to the organization.
And then she’s stuck! Too valuable in her current role to be promoted. Too critical to be distracted by other opportunities. Too important to branch out to do something different.
News flash! Becoming indispensable today can be a career death sentence. Getting ahead and ensuring rich and varied opportunities is all about becoming dispensable… in a constructive way, of course.
Let’s face it. There’s a fine line between being a vital member of the team and creating an exclusive ‘do not fly zone’ in which others can’t (or won’t) operate. Find your own personal balance by asking yourself three key questions:
- How transparent are you with information? Too many people confuse hoarding information with job security. Keeping things close to the vest will definitely keep people coming to you for answers… and can frequently seal your career in a limited niche.
- How inclusive are you when it comes to key tasks, relationships, responsibilities, and/or processes? Being the only one who knows how to do something is the quickest way to ensure that you’re the only one who gets to do it… forever!
- How much of a do-it-yourselfer are you? The tendency to handle things yourself (often fueled by a desire for efficiency or to protect one’s turf) hurts relationships, collaboration, and opportunities to grow in new career directions.
A candid assessment of the ways you might be making yourself dangerously indispensable is key. Then, you need to challenge yourself to take proactive steps to demonstrate ‘non-exclusive’ leadership in your discipline. You can be a leader – even a rock star – at what you do while at the same time sharing your knowledge, skills, and techniques with others.
Employees who effectively distinguish their skills and contributions while at the same time working themselves out of this job and into the next tend to liberally:
- Praise, recognize, and acknowledge the capabilities of others. This reflects well on you as a leader and also makes visible your broad base of skill/experience available to perform key tasks… making you important – but not indispensable.
- Cultivate transparency in how to perform effectively.Generously sharing key strengths and best practices with others creates some bench strength upon which you (and the organization) can draw as needed. Consider including others in meetings, introducing a colleague to a key client, or providing exposure and visibility in other ways.
- Coach and mentor others. Developing your own ability to help others succeed serves you as much as the other person. It’s a skill that distinguishes effective leaders while building a cadre of well-prepared back-ups that will allow you to move on. Volunteer to run workshops or lunch-and-learn sessions. Offer helpful feedback and suggestions. Teach a more junior team member the ropes.
Take just a few of these steps to ensure that your career doesn’t stall in a self-imposed prison of importance. And free yourself up for new and exciting opportunities in the process.