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Blog March 13, 2020

The Essential Guide to Becoming Essential to Our Organizations

Connectria Book Recommendation:

Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?

Seth Godin, 2010

Here’s an easy question: How many executive assistants do you have within your organization? If you’re like most, the answer is: Not many.

The vanishing executive assistant is a trend I’ve seen over the years as I visit with many of our clients. I wasn’t the only one who noticed. It was also the focus of an article in the Wall Street Journal not long ago. Automation, in the form of Microsoft Outlook and other office productivity tools, has made the executive assistant position virtually obsolete.

This trend leads to an interesting and somewhat unsettling question. If technology can eliminate jobs that make executives’ lives easier, what else can it render extinct? That question may be on the minds of many employees and managers everywhere as technology permeates every layer of the organization.

That’s why it’s important for everyone – from the lowest rung on the company ladder to the top – to strive to be indispensable to the organization. The process of doing so is what master marketer and management guru Seth Godin described his 2010 groundbreaking bestseller Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? The book is a veritable instruction manual for making yourself an irreplaceable part of any organization.

I know. The book is a decade old. But as technology relentlessly pushes farther into the corners of our organizations, Linchpin may be more vital today than the day it was released.

The Ultimate Disruptors

The dictionary defines a linchpin as: “A locking pin inserted in the end of a shaft, as in an axle, to prevent a wheel from slipping off.” Similarly but in the organizational sense, Godin defines linchpin as workers who hold the organization together and make it successful by taking bold actions. Linchpins go beyond the job description to take risks and challenge the status quo. They reject the old-world idea of “do your job, get paid, go home.”

According to Godin, the energy they bring and attributes they possess are vital to the success of our organizations in the 21st century, and he’s entirely correct. Linchpins invent, connect, create and make things happen. They see problems clearly and don’t panic. They develop innovative solutions and create their own path. They don’t follow a map; they create it.

In effect, they’re disruptors.

Godin asserts that everyone has the ability to be a linchpin, but unfortunately, few ultimately do. There’s a good reason for this. We’re taught from an early age not to think for ourselves, but to instead blindly follow instructions. Examples from our formative days are everywhere: “Use a #2 pencil!” … “Participate in as many extracurricular activities as you can!” … “Go to college!”

So when confronted with the opportunity to rise up and take a stand, we take a pass. Since every good book needs a villain, Godin calls this Resistance. It’s that little voice in our head that proposes any number of rational reasons why we shouldn’t do something: “I don’t have the time” … “We tried that before and it didn’t work” … And so on. Resistance is something we need to identify, confront and overcome if we are to indeed become indispensable to our employers, and Godin lays out plenty of effective strategies for overcoming Resistance.

The Art of Enabling Linchpins

While the focus of the book centers on individual contributors, it’s worth considering the touchy topic of managing the linchpins in our organizations. Because linchpins are so vital to our success, we as managers have an obligation to enable them. That means actively encouraging their development and creating a work environment that allows them to flourish.

And let’s be honest: Enabling linchpins may not always be easy. Many of the behaviors that define linchpins – taking risks, creating their own rules and challenging authority, for instance – are ones we’ve historically discouraged in our workers. No manager I know of appreciates issuing work direction only to discover it was deviated from or outright not followed, and few enjoy being challenged on decisions they’ve made.

But if we’re serious about building effective organizations in a fast-moving, technology-driven age, we have no choice. We must enable our linchpins.

That is something we strive to do at Connectria. We encourage our engineers to break free of the “usual” way of doing things and follow their own path – as long as it is in our clients’ best interest. For that same reason, we encourage them to challenge long-held assumptions, propose new ideas and find creative ways to solve problems. And while that may cause me headaches at times, it’s worth it for us as an organization and especially for our clients, who have placed their trust in us.

Godin says that linchpins don’t follow the map; they create it. When it comes to making ourselves vital to the success of our organizations, this book is the map.

Everyone would be well-advised to follow it.

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