As we’ve written before, we coach all of our clients to be dispensable at work. I will never forget the client who stared at me in absolute shock when I told her that. “What???” she said. “I’ve spent my entire career trying to be completely indispensable. What????”
Just today I was re-reminding a client of this. Or he was re-reminding himself. As we looked at his calendar with its lack of space and its double and triple overbookings, he said to me, “I know I’m ‘supposed’ to be dispensable, but I can’t seem to figure out how to get out of all of these meetings.”
We touched on the why of dispensable briefly, because we’d discussed that before. That he needed to step out of things and allow his team to step in so that he would have time to do the “more important” work that is only his to do – the strategic thinking and visioning; the cheerleading and obstacle-removing for his team; the connecting and influencing. And by allowing his team to step in, they will learn and grow and develop and take on new challenges.
We touched on the why briefly and focused on the how, because for this client, and for many clients, it’s the how that trips them up. (Years ago, a client told us that what we taught was “simple, but not easy.” I guess that’s still true.)
How to be dispensable? There are a few key steps to get started:
- Make it a team effort – tell your direct reports, your manager, your peers, and any other stakeholders what you’re doing and why. This will 1) help hold you accountable to do it and 2) give you support when it’s hard to do.
- Just say no – and especially, say no to meetings. Send your team members instead. (And make sure you’ve prepped them sufficiently to handle what may need to be handled and make sure to prep yourself so that you can actually let go when they handle things differently than you may have.) Begin to say no to those urgent, not important things that land in your inbox. Push back on low-value assignments.
- Remind yourself (and others) of why you’re doing this – if you’re not careful (and even if you are), your FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) or micromanaging or insecurity (read this as need to prove how valuable you are… to yourself and to others) may kick in. You need to be armed and ready with a defense and a way to talk yourself off the ledge before you cave and keep everything on your own calendar and to-do list.
Life and work are, needless to say, quite different now. We’re still getting used to WFH and being remote and cities and states opening up (and closing back down). We’re still in the midst of a cultural and society revolution. We’re still all potentially reeling from all this…plus our own lives, losses, fears, achievements, family pressures, etc. Plus, it’s the summer, and, if at all possible, in the midst of all this turmoil and hopeful change, we also need a break. A chance to slow down and reflect and, if at all possible, enjoy the summer beauty.
Which is all the more reason why now is the time to teach yourself to be dispensable.
How have you learned to be more dispensable and how has it helped you?
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If you enjoyed this post, you can read more like it in our book, The Power of Thoughtful Leadership: 101 Minutes To Being the Leader You Want To Be, available on Amazon.
For support in becoming dispensable – in a way that’s best for you, your team, and your business – contact Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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