Thursday, April 30, 2009

Leadership - The Indispensible Syndrome

Ever get into a situation when you feel as if the team will totally fail without you?

I have.

I suppose we get the idea from sports where one key player goes down--like the quarterback on a football team, and the team fails to make the playoffs. We blame the lack of a quarterback on the missed opportunity. But really--there was another quarterback who stepped in. Think of the great back-ups who have taken their teams to the playoffs after the starter was injured--like Earl Morrall.

But really? How many times have you heard it said that it takes a team to succeed and even if someone makes a poor play or causes a penalty, or hits into a season ending triple-play, it is not as if that was the only opportunity that the team had during the entire game. There are many opportunities--we just seem to remember the dramatic endings as time runs out or the third out of the ninth inning.

The belief that the entire success or failure of the team is up to one person is not something seen in only the team leaders. Team members can also feel as if they are indispensable. Without them, nothing will get done and there will be total chaos and utter failure. And for a moment in time--just the right moment it may be true. But it cannot be and should not be an all-day, every-day thing.


Come on--what happened before you? And the mark of a good team leader/member is training your replacement--remember that concept of succession planning?

Think of the stress! If you really are the only one--then how do you ever take a day off? Even God rested on the seventh day! And, nothing personal, but believing that you are absolutely indispensable kind of equates your view of yourself with that of a god.

So what is really going on here?

I think it is a matter of low self-esteem or self-worth. Losing oneself in the team provides a personal boost of importance and hides a multitude of other problems.

Don't get me wrong, each team member needs to feel important and to be a true contributing member--but there is a difference between contributing to success and being indispensable.

Think of the broken relationships caused by being indispensable. Those extra hours and effort given to the team, or at the office, or to the church, or to whatever project/team you are part of are given at an expense in relationships with family and friends. I am a living example of the work-alcoholic approach to live. A classic Type-A military officer who takes charge and is the last one to leave the ship when it's going down! Pretty empty at the end of the day.

Balance. There needs to be balance.

True--the team may not be as efficient when you are gone--but stuff will still be done and if the absence is planned, others can step up to fill the gap.

In my business, people come and go all the time. We plan to fill gaps. We are always looking around and asking the--"what if ____ get's hit by a bus" question. Teams need to plan for success and not to burn members out. During each big project we strive to allow the "back-ups" to get some playing time so they feel more comfortable making decisions. There is nothing worse than getting called while on vacation with a "big problem" that someone else should be able to handle. If only I had trained them!

So here are some hard words: You are not indispensable! If you think you are you are doing yourself AND your whole team a disservice and stifling the growth of those around you. And, you are harming yourself by not allowing yourself to have healthy relationships with family and friends.

Get a life outside your team. Being critical and important and contributing is good. But, being indispensable is very dysfunctional.

"The cemeteries of the world are full of indispensable men." Charles de Gaulle

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