The Not-So-Subtle Art Of Being Indispensable: Retrenchment-Proofing In Eight Simple Steps

Kim Underhill for Today's Manager​


Being indispensable means being likeable, trustworthy, and so good and efficient at your job that your superiors and peers cannot imagine replacing you.

If there is ever a time to be unashamed in your pursuit of career goals, it is when lay-offs are just around the corner. Today’s increasingly competitive workforce, coupled with the rising cost of living has led to job security emerging as the top concern for Singaporeans.

Add to that the knowledge that countless positions are being outsourced, automated, or quite simply, cut, and we suddenly have a real problem on our hands. The real question we should be asking then, is am I indispensable and how do I become retrenchment-proof?

Financially protecting ourselves and our families does not have to be an impossible feat. It starts with making a name for yourself—and I don’t mean becoming the next Justin Bieber. Communicate to your superiors and peers that you are committed to making a difference to your company, your team, and your business, but it all begins with making a difference with yourself.

Here are some ways to embrace self-leadership and best position yourself as an indispensable part of any team:


1. Going the Extra Mile Most employees only execute what is given to them, but if you are one of the few who show a willingness to take on new responsibilities not typically required of you, and constantly devise and communicate new ideas, this will make you indispensable.

Not to mention, this will surely help expand your know-ledge and experience as you venture out and accomplish tasks you would not have otherwise attempted.

2. Dedication to High Standards Only good things can come from bringing your best to everything you do, in your personal life and at work. Superiors will appreciate the good work you are producing and the good example you set, peers and subordinates will respect you, and you will feel good about your performances. Win-win.

3. Honesty and Integrity Whether it is a forgotten deadline, a mistake, or a bad judgement call, always communicate openly and honestly. Beyond that, always work hard to find solid solutions to the potential problems you may have caused and never point fingers.

Whilst your boss might be unhappy with what had happened in the short-term, your ability to handle the problem speaks volumes for your character, helping you gain his/her trust in the long-term.

4. Openness and Adaptability The age-old adage remains true: two minds are better than one. Learn to be the person who flourishes while working with others. Synergising with your peers to produce collaborative efforts will only stand to produce higher quality work.

More than just ensuring better work, openness will lend itself to making you the person people reach out to. Offer your mentorship, coaching, solutions, and knowledge. After all, you are all on the same side.

5. Learn From Every Mistake No boss likes to watch his/her people fail, especially not repeatedly and over the same thing. You might get away with it once, or even twice, but do it a third time and you will be about as far from indispensable as possible—out the door.

Learning from your mistakes not only puts your commitment to improving the company and yourself on display, it shows your boss that you are teachable—that you are a dynamic individual capable of taking on new ideas and expanding yourself for the cause.

6. Build Strong and Lasting Relationships It is important to build strong and lasting relationships, not only within your team and with the people you report to, but also with others in different job functions within the organisation.

Additionally, never stop building and nurturing relationships with clients. These relationships can sometimes be a critical factor for a company deciding on who to keep or let go. If they know letting go of you will result in the loss of tons of business, they might think twice before making the call.

7. Master Critical Tasks Within every organisation, there are a handful (or more) tasks that are absolutely critical to the ability of the company to function and carry on business. Pick one of these tasks and become an absolute master at it. This will quickly become one of your unique selling points (USPs). When the need arises, you will be primed to step up and step in, seamlessly providing the solution, much to the relief and awe of your superiors and subordinates alike. This, however, does not mean intentionally creating barriers for others keen on learning the skill as well so you can monopolise it. Rather, become so good at it that you become the go-to person or the only person entrusted with that function.

8. Be Reliable Being consistently reliable in everything that you do will go a long way in ensuring you stick around when cuts are around the corner. This starts with ensuring that you never take on commitments you are not confident of delivering.

It is always better to under-promise and over-deliver—sending the message that you do not make empty promises but are more than willing to go the extra mile without being asked to.

More than helping with your reputation and image, being reliable will gain you the trust of superiors and subordinates alike.

Conclusion Being indispensable is not the same as being irreplaceable. As the saying goes, everyone can be replaced. To be indispensable, however, means that you are so good and efficient at your job, so well-liked and trusted, that your superiors and peers simply cannot imagine replacing you.

Self-leadership requires all of the above and the ability to continuously self-coach with the mindset of achieving success from the inside out—always knowing that it is the choice you make and not the challenge you fear.

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