A great servant-leader I worked with years ago, Ann, used to tell her staff:
“If you make yourself indispensable, you’re fired.”
Wait a minute. That seems a little counterintuitive.
Isn’t it good to be indispensable – to be so valuable that my employer can’t live without me?
Not according to Ann.
Ann recognized that the worst leaders strive to make themselves indispensable.
You know the type. These folks don’t train others. They don’t share information. They block access to the higher-ups. They don’t delegate. They often put in crazy long hours (“I’m the only one here who can do this”), making sure everyone else notices.
Why do people do such things?
Mostly because they are insecure, I suppose. They believe that indispensability brings them job security.
If I make myself indispensable – if my employer can’t live without me – I have a lot of power, don’t I?
But Ann recognized that, in a manner of speaking, the best leaders in the workplace strive to be dispensable.
The best leaders – the servant-leaders – constantly develop others and, to the extent possible, continuously groom their successors.
These best leaders prepare for the contingency that they might not be around forever. They want to assure continuity in leadership if, for any reason, they should depart the scene. In so doing, they put the interests of their enterprises ahead of their own personal interests.
Management thinker Peter Drucker sums up the point nicely when he says:
“The worst thing you can say about a leader is that on the day he or she left, the organization collapsed.”
The irony here is that, in a healthy organization, the leaders seeking to be dispensable by developing others become the ones most likely to be viewed as indispensable.
And, in a healthy organization, those striving to make themselves indispensable are the ones that, according to Ann, might best be . . .
. . . fired.
What do you think? Is Ann right when she says, “If you make yourself indispensable, you’re fired”? What are we missing here?
Let us know.
As always, we appreciate your views.