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The graveyards are full of indispensable men.

Charles de Gaulle

To Be Indispensable

Job security is a serious concern for many employees in today’s workforce.

For instance, knowing that so many positions are being outsourced, cut, or revamped makes it especially difficult to believe that anybody’s job is entirely safe.

However, in any workplace, you’ll still find people who are absolutely indispensable – that is to say, productivity would grind to a halt if they were suddenly no longer there.  And it’s not just C-level executives who hold this distinction; it could be an employee at any level in any department of the organization.

Andy Teach, author of From Graduation to Corporation, says,

“Being indispensable at work means that your supervisors count on you so much that without you, the productivity of your department might suffer, or at least that’s the perception,”

When you’re indispensable, some part of the company cannot function without you.  You may have knowledge that is unique to you, a position in the organization that is unique to you, or a skill that is unique to you.

Sounds perfect, right?


Don’t be Indispensable

Being Indispensable has several problems.

Time off – What if you have a solo knowledge that the business needs?  What happens when you want to take a vacation, need time off for a medical emergency, or just want a break?  Both you and the business are in trouble.

Monopoly – In addition to the problems with taking time off, sooner or later, the business will see the problem with having someone with a monopoly on one of their job functions.  Real or imagined, they will begin to worry about being held hostage over pay issues and other benefits, not to mention the problems with relations with other employees.

Drives Company Decisions – We are now seeing self-order kiosks in fast-food restaurants due to human labor issues.  These decisions were not entirely driven by the need to automate food ordering.  They were done to protect the business from labor disputes.  The same case can be made for indispensable employees.  If you become indispensable, the company may start planning on how to work around you, even if it is not in their best interest.

Become Essential Instead

While the indispensable employee wants to become useful to an extreme, the person trying to become essential aims at being useless.  The essential person believes they should share their know-how and social skills with as many people as possible.

They are the quintessential team player.

The essential person is what is called an everyman leader.  Someone who makes the extra effort to help whoever needs it.

The essential person is an agent of change, no matter the place or the role – and does it every day.  Frequently, an employee will ask for help from the essential person rather than his manager when facing a problem.

Sure, this type of employee often has indispensable knowledge and responsibility.  But they have that job assignment not out of a need to be “one-of-a-kind,” but because they possess the reputation and trust that has commanded the business to give them those jobs.

The Bible

One great leader all businesspeople and entrepreneurs should study is Moses.

Sure, he had some weaknesses; he was human, after all.  But his leadership lessons are still invaluable today.

One minor incident in his life with great leadership insight is found in Numbers 11:24–30.

Moses rescued the Israelites from the Egyptians and was in the wilderness traveling to the promised land.  And the only thing the Israelites could do was complain and grumble.  About everything.  And Moses took their complaint to God.

At God’s instructions, Moses gathered seventy elders together, and God passed some of the Spirit onto them so they could prophesy to the Israelites just as Moses did.

However, two elders (Eldad and Medad) who did not attend the gathering before God found they could also prophesy.  So they did what came naturally and began to prophesy to the people.

In a panic, Joshua (whom the book of Joshua is named after) came to Moses and demanded that Moses stop Eldad and Medad.  To which Moses replied,

“Are you jealous for my sake?  I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” (Numbers 11:29).

To a great extent, Moses was indispensable.  But more importantly, he was essential.  He did not want to be indispensable, he wanted everyone to have what it takes to do his job.

Business Leaders need to strive always to be essential.  And for their employees to always see themselves as essential. 

Follow Moses’s lead and pass on your knowledge as well as your responsibilities.  Your business will benefit greatly.