Career Development: It’s All About Becoming Dispensable

 

This guest blog post by Julie Winkle Giulioni celebrates the September 18 launch of her book with Beverly Kaye, Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want. Julie has spent the past 25 years improving performance through learning. She consults with organizations to develop and deploy innovative instructional designs and training worldwide. You can learn more about Julie’s consulting, speaking, and blog at juliewinklegiulioni.com.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  3. 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.


I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.

2 comments on “Career Development: It’s All About Becoming Dispensable

  1. I really like this post and look forward to reading your book. Congrats on publishing it!

    One thing I tend to see is people who have entered later stages of their career and seem stuck in the sense they are doing their jobs, but seem to have lost the desire to contribute to the team outside of their own work. What would you say to a leader trying to address this or to an individual who is there?

  2. Thanks so much, Scott. You raise a really good point. I wonder if sometimes leaders don’t put as much thought or effort into this part of their workforce because they feel like the return on the investment isn’t there. Yet, while these folks may not have decades left in the workforce, their experience and wisdom can help drive powerful results… if properly tapped. Wouldn’t it be great if senior team members were treated like sage elders… might that change the dynamic?

    For the manager, I’d say, “Start talking with these folks. Let them know the value they bring. Connect them with others who need to learn what they know. Actively engage them in strategizing how to ensure that their skills and talents will be transferred to others.”

    For the employee who is a bit stuck, I’d say, “Look around and remember what you loved about your work… and figure out how to help others feel that same sense of passion. Magnify your talents and skills by teaching others what you know. Consider the legacy you’d like to leave… and start leaving it.”

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