I really like Seth Godin. Who doesn’t, right? I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve contemplated getting some smart little horn-rimmed glasses, shaving my head and just writing; my way over-simplified idea of his life. I realize, of course, that he doesn’t just write. He observes then synthesizes—he adds value by saying what often seems commonsensical after it’s been presented, but heretofore, no one else has said. I like that he believes in thinkers and brave souls and doesn’t worry about popularity or appearance (thus the glasses and shaved head), and that his lack of concern for the mundane: 1) allows him to focus more fully on important things, and 2) gives him tremendous credibility.
I re-read his book, Linchpin, this weekend and think it’s a great book to reflect on as we launch into our weekly routine—or maybe not-so-routine if you take any of the lessons to heart. Linchpins are the indispensable people in an organization. They are the people who help organizations grow rather than succumb to fear during change. They are the people who take action even in the absence of a rule book. They are rare and valuable; invaluable actually.
I my consulting practice I, unfortunately, meet very few linchpins. Don’t get me wrong, I look for them. Truthfully, I look for them first, at the beginning of any consulting engagement. I want to find the people in the organization with ideas about how to “make things better around here.” Those ideas shouldn’t come from me, I’m a tourist. I mean, I care. But I’m going home, back to my office on Michigan Avenue at the end of the engagement. Linchpins are the people who have lived and will continue to live in the organization long after I leave. They have more skin in the game, and perspective, than I do (than any consultant). So, I seek them out to help me get a sense of the client organization’s capacity. Yep, linchpins often help me understand how much capacity—ability to grow—is possessed by an organization. And that, then, let’s me know how hard to push, and in what direction.
Here’s the other great thing about linchpins—they can be incredibly influential. They might not be influential at first or all the time, but they are the people who, armed with belief in their ideas and their organization’s ability, build strategic alliances and create breakthrough experiences. They stick their necks out when others are in protecting their necks mode, like turtles tucked safely inside their shells. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not encouraging you, Reader, to go into your next meeting like a bull in a China shop, pushing an idea that’s been percolating in your head for weeks. Influence is more than just having a great idea—it’s about understanding and being able to carefully navigate the environment and relationships needed to get the idea socialized and considered as viable by others.
Alas, I think there’s more linchpin potential but so many of the people I meet in organizations are paralyzed by fear, waiting for the “person in charge” to give direction, even when the person in charge is paralyzed by fear himself. How about this: let’s let go of the fear today; heck, maybe even for the whole week. This Monday morning I want to echo Seth Godin’s words of wisdom: “Give yourself a D”. Go into this work week free from seeking approval. Assume that coloring in the lines is for the boring and the brainwashed. Let go of the little voice in your head that so desperately wants an “A”. Know that you have inside the ability, and the courage, to create something—a relationship, a culture within your unit, a new product or system or offering—that others may not immediately approve of nor understand, but that adds value.
Take-Aways for Making Yourself Irreplaceable:
- Believe you are irreplaceable. This is HUGE. If you don’t see your contribution, or potential contribution, as unique, how will others?
- Pull your head up, away from the fires and the tedious tasks, and look around. Linchpins find opportunities to effect systems, not just cross off the ever-replenishing “to do” list items.
- Find, acknowledge, embrace and cultivate your creativity. Many of us spend much of the day using the left sides of our brains—the analytical, objective, “there is ONE right answer” side. Find ways to tap into the right side of your brain more regularly—the intuitive, thoughtful and subjective side. Take an art class, or take a walk through an art gallery during your lunch break. We may want to take objective approaches to leading, but in reality, we live in subjective organizations where being able to read subtle cues, use intuition, and thoughtful navigate your own emotion and those of others (emotional intelligence) are invaluable characteristics.
- Access your whole self. We are more than just heads sitting propped up on hunched shoulders slouching over computers. Stand up. Take a walk. Stop thinking about work—several times per day. Incorporate walking meditation into each day: letting yourself be overwhelmed by the beauty of the trees changing color or feel the crisp September air on your face while freeing your mind of negative thoughts. Then go back to your workplace feeling refreshed and open to new ideas for solving the problems that will inevitably still be just where you left them.
- Help others. Show yourself to be a team player and willing to step up and take on opportunities to be helpful to others without being asked or need of reward. An important note: helping others allows you to: 1) deepen your skill set (teaching someone is a wonderful way to learn), 2) gather additional insight about a system that may need to be changed, and 3) demonstrate your expertise.
Now go for it!