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Are you indispensible?

Playing to be indispensable is a choice you make. “One-hundred percent commitment is a breeze, 99 percent is a bitch. If you’re 100-percent committed, you never have to re-decide. It’s a done deal. If you commit 99 percent, every day you have to re-decide.” This quote by Jack Canfield captures the thinking and behavior at the heart of playing to be indispensable - or playing to be something less. I don’t know about you, but being “dispensable” is not in my genetic coding. Setting myself up to be a victim of a budget cut and saying, “Guess it was my turn,” runs contrary to everything I believe about being successful and achieving my full potential. To me, dispensable just means, “I don’t care enough.” No way. Not me. Not my employees. Not on my watch.

Too many leaders, especially business owners, fall into the trap of perceiving that their title and position anoint them as indispensable. Leaders get fired. Indispensable employees quit dispensable leaders. By not playing full out - being 100-percent committed - dispensable business owners lead their companies into the fiery pits of hell - or into extinction. Owners can, and do, lose it all because they didn’t back up their dreams and visions with action - with 100-percent commitment. They blame the economy, the competition and their employees. In truth, it was the leader who was dispensable. They created a unnecessary company. It was a choice.

In his new book, Linchpin, Seth Godin says, “There are no longer any jobs where someone else tells you precisely what to do.” If you’re waiting for someone else to make you successful, you’re dispensable. If you have employees who see a job that needs doing - and they don’t do it - they’re dispensable. Indispensable players view every job as their responsibility. It all starts with you - the leader.

Here are some no-compromise strategies to make “indispensable” the mandate:

  • “With every pair of hands you get a free brain.” That’s Jack Stack’s (author of The Great Game of Business) call to action to give all employees the information they need to think and act like owners. Want to create bottom-line profit? Teach employees how a company makes money. Teach them how they influence the Profit and Loss Statement. Teach them what a healthy Balance Sheet looks like. Afraid to share the numbers? Get over it. That’s yesterday’s thinking.

  • Embrace the fact that there just aren’t rules anymore. Yes, a business needs structure, standards and direction, but how you go about it must be more creative than ever. And, you must engage the creativity of the indispensible members of your team. As Seth Godin calls them, “linchpins.” Let go of old, rigid rules and replace them with high-participation approaches. This process begins by asking your key players a simple question: “How would you make it work?”

  • Stop enabling dispensable people: The more you tell people what to do, the more you give them “procedures,” the more you stifle creative thinking - the more you make people dispensable. People support, protect and own what they helped to create. Give them a manual full of procedures and you’ll be spending your time trying to hold them accountable to a “do it this way - do it our way” job.

If there is anything that freaks me out, it’s the thought of becoming irrelevant, and therefore, dispensable. As a reader of my Wake-Ups, you know my quote, “Are you fighting harder to protect your employees’ paychecks than they are?” If this quote stirs something inside you, you are creating dispensable people. You are in danger of becoming dispensable yourself.

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Neil Ducoff, Founder & CEO of Strategies and author of No-Compromise Leadership

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