Every successful organization has at least one linchpin; some have dozens or even thousands. The linchpin is the essential element, the person who holds part of the organization together. Without the linchpin, the thing falls apart.
– by Seth Godin in Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? (2010)
Two American icons have been getting a bit of attention from the media lately: NASA’s space shuttle program, and Oprah Winfrey.
In NASA’s case, the agency is in its final countdown as it brings the current space shuttle program to an end. Manned space flight has been a reality for America since 1969; it has become a part of our lives in some way, even if it is just to pause and watch the takeoffs and landings with awe and appreciation. A fleet of space shuttles has served the program since 1981, with each one serving as an important component in its own right. If Space Shuttle Endeavour lands on time this week, for example, it will have spent 299 days in space and traveled more than 122.8 million miles during its 25 flights. It launched on its first mission on May 7, 1992. (Source: www.nasa.gov)
In an interview on CBS Sunday Morning this past weekend (see clip and article here: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/05/29/sunday/main20067174.shtml?tag=contentBody;featuredPost-PE), NASA Administrator Charles Bolden became emotional as he talked about the legacy of the space shuttle program and the important groundwork it has laid for future space exploration and discovery. Orion, the next spacecraft that NASA plans to use for additional exploration, has benefited from past explorations as well; it will have twice the capacity of the Apollo spacecraft that carried men to the moon in the 1960’s. Each decade of effort has built upon the last so NASA can continue to learn from its discoveries and carry out its mission effectively. From the standpoint of talent, the men and women who have worked on each element of the space program are clearly indispensable in their own way. The application of their knowledge and skills has had to evolve continuously in order to keep up with technological advances and stay aligned with NASA’s mission. There can be little doubt that NASA has several “linchpins” in its midst.
In Oprah’s case, she has been a fixture on daytime television for 25 years. In addition to her efforts to provide practical information for people to use in their daily lives, she has served as a one-woman wave of philanthropy for decades. Schools and scholarships are just two of the things she has supported through her commitment of personal wealth and time. Many people who have been featured in recent television interviews about her show have made a similar comment: “What will I watch at 4pm now, without Oprah? There’s nothing like her!” I suspect that as much as people will miss her show – and I am one of those people – the loss they are feeling goes to something beyond simple entertainment. Oprah has been seen as a linchpin by millions of individuals and on some level, a society, in terms of the differences she has made through her show.
I am predicting that somewhere, on some level, you play the role of a linchpin in your life too. You may or may not be an engineer who designs space shuttles; you may not be the CEO of a media organization that beams its way into millions of homes each day. But if you are playing a role in an organization you have an opportunity to be indispensable to the mission of that organization, no matter how far from the mission you may think you are. Here are some tips you can use to become a linchpin, too.
- What is one thing that only you can do in service to your organization’s mission? Think about this not just from your task list, but from the standpoint of your unique combination of knowledge, skills, experience and perspective. You may be uniquely qualified to solve a problem or advance a goal that will have an impact on your team, your department, your division, or the organization overall. Once you have identified at least one thing you are uniquely qualified to contribute to, look at your current job. Are you spending some percentage of time on that one thing? If not, why not? What will it take to make a shift so that you are dedicating some time to it?
- Make it a habit, not just a goal, to collaborate with others and exchange knowledge. It is easy to become so focused on your own task list that you lose sight of your organization’s broader needs. Something that you are working on could be the perfect complement to what a colleague has been staying up all night to figure out. Don’t go overboard with shameless self-promotion, but look for opportunities at the water cooler or the staff meeting to create connections and offer your insights. You may be surprised at how quickly this can become a lot like the game, Six Degrees of Separation.
- Carry a spirit of generosity into your work without undue worry that you will be taken advantage of. By “generosity,” do I mean you should give all of your knowledge and effort away without care for any credit or return? No…but that’s close. Many performance management systems reward us for results and sometimes, for innovation. I absolutely believe it is important to be rewarded and recognized, as appropriate, for what you bring to the table. I also believe you become indispensable not just for producing results, but for producing the type of environment where others are inspired to produce results, too. The efforts you make to create space for other people’s ideas, and the intentional way you support and encourage other people’s success, will add to your own.
These are just a few talent management strategies that I have used, and that I’ve coached clients to use, in an effort to become indispensable. What has worked for you? Write and tell me about your successes!
There’s an old saying that essentially warns us not to make assumptions because it can make us look foolish. Looking foolish is one of the many risks that come with making assumptions, but it isn’t the only one. Let’s step out of the routine office workplace for a moment and look at an extreme example of what can happen when you work from your own assumptions.
Imagine you are in a crowded, busy emergency room at a hospital, looking for a doctor or nurse. You are pacing nervously in the hallway, holding a blood-soaked washcloth in one hand. A nurse approaches you, sees the washcloth, and gives you a tetanus shot before you can explain or protest. As the nurse takes the washcloth from you and starts to examine your hand, it becomes clear that you don’t have an injury. You then explain that your son or daughter is the one with the injury, and they had just stepped away to the rest room when the nurse whisked you away for treatment. Meanwhile, the person who really needed treatment is now sitting out in the waiting room.
What assumption was the nurse holding? Among other assumptions, that you were injured and needed immediate treatment, a noble job that is his or hers to perform.
What assumption were you holding? Most likely, that you would have a chance to explain your situation before anyone proceeded with any treatment.
This example may seem like an exaggeration, particularly given the intentional approach that today’s healthcare workers strive to use when assessing patients. That isn’t my reason for selecting it. My point is that communication is required in almost every workplace; it is rare for your work to be so isolated that it doesn’t touch at least one other person. Given that, there are a few things you can do in the spirit of collaboration to help surface your assumptions and ensure you are aligned with others who will be impacted by your actions.
First, if you are a member of a team – especially if you or anyone else is new to the team – ask for time at the start of a project to talk about the team’s typical way of operating. If you hear anything that differs from your typical way of operating (your assumptions), bring it up. Ask if any of your ways of operating will be in conflict with the team’s norms.
Second, sometimes the words people use sound straightforward, but they hold different meaning to different people. Check in with colleagues from time to time to ensure that you are all talking about the same things and working toward the same outcomes. For example, let’s say your team has been tasked with creating an important report that senior management will use to make some big decisions. As the team starts gathering data for the report and assignments are being given, you might ask the team leader, “Louise, when you said the other day that a draft report will meet the initial deliverable for now, what does that draft need to contain? How much detail is important to include at this draft stage as opposed to later in the process?” Getting clarity about the expected level of detail up front can ensure that you don’t spend more or less time than required for success on the team’s overall deliverable.
In everyday workplace situations, if you work only from your assumptions it can result in lost productivity, bruised relationships, and general inefficiency. Don’t be the nurse who gives shots first and diagnoses the situation later. Surface your assumptions up front and invite others to do the same. You may learn a lot about how you are operating and what else you can do to work more effectively with others. This process may not save your life, but it may at least save time, effort and productivity that is best directed toward other work.
No, this isn’t a lead-in to a bad joke.
Paleontologists like Jack Horner have been doing research that shows there are some genetic markers that dinosaurs and present-day birds, like chickens, may share. Some scientists challenge whether birds or dinosaurs came first, but a traditional view suggests that birds represent evolution at its best; in essence, that today’s birds began as dinosaurs that adapted to the environment in order for the species to survive.
Organizations are not exactly like dinosaurs, but they do experience “evolution” or change throughout the year, as does the world around us. Each day presents an organization with opportunities to adapt in order to survive and hopefully, to grow. Both private and public sector organizations that adapt most effectively can find themselves operating in new places, serving others in new ways, and attracting talented new employees, with the end result of adding even more value to the world around them during the process. For-profit organizations often have the added incentive of increasing revenue or market share by adapting and evolving in this way. Organizations that resist adaptation can find themselves “extinct,” or at the very least, wondering why their employees and customers are looking elsewhere for a fresh approach to the services or opportunities that their organization once provided.
What about you? How have you adapted to your environment this year? The same opportunity to adapt and grow exists each day that you choose to come to work. The start of a new year is also a great time to take a fresh look at the next step in your professional development. What will it look like for you to continue to evolve, adapt, and add value to your organization next year?
New York restaurateur Danny Meyer defines a “51 percenter” as an employee who brings job skills that are 51 percent emotional and 49 percent technical. Having worked in the hotel industry for 10 years, I share Mr. Meyer’s contention that the art of delivering true hospitality often comes from your heart more so than from your head.
Meyer goes on to say that service is about meeting the technical expectation, while the “hospitality quotient,” as he calls it, surpasses mere technical requirements to the ability to demonstrate a sense of being on the customer’s side. This is something I look for when hiring for customer-focused roles too. In my own case, when I seek to delight customers by anticipating and meeting needs they didn’t even realize they had, I get as much joy from that process as they do in the outcome, if not more so. Meyer calls this the “jazz level,” or the extent to which those 51 percenters are “jazzed” by coming to work in an environment that calls for them to deliver outstanding hospitality each day. Rain or shine, pleasant customers or surly, Meyer’s definition of a hospitality orientation is a core behavioral requirement for everyone he hires to work in one of his 12 restaurants. No jazz…no job.
Now, here are my three questions for you:
How would you define the hospitality quotient in your office?
Do you consider yourself a 51 percenter?
If not, what would it be like for you and your customers if you showed up this way, starting today?
You don’t have to work in a restaurant or hotel to bring the art of hospitality to your workplace. You don’t even have to work directly with external customers who pay you or your organization a fee. Most of us have at least one internal customer in another department that we have to serve at some point in our careers. Being a 51 percenter does require that you operate from a point of view that puts you firmly on the same team as your customers, however. Customers know better when this isn’t the case. One trip to the Returns and Exchanges counter at your typical department store will show you the difference.
It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money or time to bring a higher hospitality quotient to your office, either. The next time you are working on a customer request, challenge yourself to think three steps ahead of your customer. What else is possible beyond the initial inquiry or request they have made? What else can you do or say to demonstrate that you have their best interests at heart? Try it out, and tell me about your success!
For more about Danny Meyer and his philosophy about the art of hospitality, check out Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business (2006, Harper Collins).
Los Angeles is a long way from Venezuela. But somehow, Gustavo Dudamel never looks more at home than when he is on the platform as the new conductor of the LA Philharmonic. Dudamel is currently one of the most sought-after conductors in the world. Have I mentioned that he is 29 years old?
The Millennial Generation, or Gen Y as it is often called, is generally defined as those who were born between 1978 and 1996. They comprise more than 25% of the U.S. population. And in addition to being amongst the youngest in their workplaces, they are frequently the colleagues who are expressing strong views about the importance of brainstorming, their ability to generate creative solutions, and their interest in making a significant mark on the world. This is a generation who holds themselves and their organizations to a high standard.
Whether you are a leader of a team with a diverse age range or a team member who wants to learn more about what drives your colleagues, learning to work together effectively is about more than workplace satisfaction; it is about business growth and sustainability too, as more members of the Baby Boomer generation prepare to retire. Millennials and their slightly older colleagues from Generation X (born between 1965 and 1977) represent the blend of ages that will exist on the senior leadership teams of tomorrow. There are two new books on the shelves that I’ve found interesting on this topic. The first is What’s Next, Gen X? by Tamara Erickson. The second is Managing the Millennials by Espinoza, Ukleja and Rusch. Both books include helpful research and practical tips to foster greater understanding and synergy between members of the multiple generations that are in today’s workplace.
Dudamel’s list of expectations and accomplishments grows by the day, by the way, as does his trademark curly hair, which he is known to toss about passionately while conducting. An accomplished violinist, Dudamel is the former Music Director of the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra and an important factor behind YOLA (Youth Orchestra Los Angeles), which makes it possible for low-income children throughout Los Angeles to participate in a first-rate musical education program. Dudamel credits his early days in a similar program, El Sistema, as the place that first nurtured his talent and his passion for music. His experience at El Sistema also inspired him to make a similar difference for children around the world through programs like YOLA. High expectations? Yes. But to a Millennial, big dreams and bold actions are an everyday expectation. If your organization hasn’t found a way to leverage this energy yet, now is a great time to start!
P.S. To watch Dudamel in action with the kids from YOLA, click here: http://www.laphil.com/gustavo/about.html
What would you say if I asked you to describe what it means to you to be personally
Webster’s defines the word resilient as bouncing back, or elastic. (Webster’s New World
Dictionary, 4th Ed, 2000).
Some of you might say personal resilience means the ability to overcome hardships, such
as a personal loss, or extreme organizational changes such as layoffs, all while
maintaining an optimistic outlook.
For others, resilience might mean taking the phrase, “Feedback is the breakfast of
champions” to heart, allowing you to let any and all comments you receive from
customers, colleagues, or supervisors roll off of your back without damaging your
feelings or your sense of self-worth based on what someone else has said.
There are likely as many answers to my imaginary questions as there are people and
points of view in the world, because each person’s take on this topic will understandably
be shaped by their own experiences.
People who know me well would tell you that I enjoy studying leadership and personal
effectiveness from multiple angles. When I look through the slightly worn lens of history,
for example, the British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton and his crew on the Endurance
stand out as one of my favorite illustrations of resilience.
Shackleton and his team withstood life-threatening conditions and months of multiple
setbacks in their expedition to the Antarctic. Historic accounts of the expedition note the
team’s level of personal sacrifice in pursuit of their mission along with Shackleton’s
dogged determination and strong leadership as key to his ability to eventually bring the
team home. (“Shackleton, Sir Ernest Henry.” The Oxford Companion to Ships and the
Sea. Oxford University Press. 2006. Retrieved January 26, 2010 from Encyclopedia.com:
To me, however, Sir Ernest Shackleton and his team incorporated more than physical will
and determination as their way of demonstrating resilience. Records also show that they
read, sang, played cards, enjoyed meals together, wrote letters to loved ones, and rough-
housed with the sled dogs they brought on the trip in an effort to pass the time and release
stress. This is one very important aspect of becoming and remaining resilient: time for
When I think about resilience with an emphasis on how it helps hard-working
professionals to be effective in today’s workplace, here are a few tips that you can use to
build your own level of personal resilience.
- Resilience is about having the capability to bend rather than break. As the dictionary
definition states, the ability to “bounce back” is the literal interpretation of resilience.
Think for a moment about the way trees blow in the wind. Strong, healthy branches
are usually able to bend gracefully in the wind and adapt to current conditions;
weaker branches break and fall to the ground, especially when the winds blow the
hardest. Which type of branch do you feel most like today? What can you do to give
yourself some of the renewal time you may need in order to bend and “bounce back”
more gracefully when the wind blows within your organization?
- Resilience is like a muscle – you can develop it. Our access to information has never
been more immediate than it is today, and unfortunately, much of the news has been
bad in recent months. This constant barrage of negative news takes its toll on your
body and your mind whether the events in question affect you directly or not -
especially if it is the main source of information you are taking in each day.
- It may sound overly simplistic, but you can help yourself to bounce back by making
more intentional choices that balance the amount and type of information you take in.
I invite you to try an experiment that has worked very well for many of my coaching
clients: for one week, avoid turning the television on first thing in the morning when
all of the network news shows are shouting their headlines. Use that time to listen to
music while you get ready for work, or to just enjoy some rare silence (if your
household allows). Take note of how you feel each day. What do you notice about
your energy level and your state of mind? At the end of the week, do a reality check
with yourself about how much you did or did not miss the “news” that you elected not
to take in. You may find that a small “news diet” like this can make a big impact on
how equipped you feel to meet the challenges of each day.
- Resilience is not always about extreme acts of heroism; small acts of grace work
wonders too. Those of you who have burned hours of midnight oil on work projects
will understand what I mean by this statement. Organizations often hold up these
“heroic moments” as exemplars for everyone else to emulate, forgetting that efforts
like that are meant to be an exception, not the rule, in most healthy workplaces.
Some of you may read this post and say that late nights and weekend projects are the
norm in your office; you may even thrive on that type of pace. If you do, perhaps you
are already quite resilient! But for those of you who work in organizations that do not
typically operate this way, your level of resilience is being tested when you are asked
to perform at this level on a regular basis. It is at these times when your reserves of
resilience are at risk of being depleted; the same is true of those around you if they
are working at that pace too. So, what small act of grace can you extend to yourself or
others at those times? For example, are you holding yourself and others to “real”
deadlines, or have you just become so used to working with an eye on the clock that
you’ve forgotten what is really driving those deadlines?
Whatever your definition of personal resilience is, I would love to hear your thoughts
about how might it help you at work if you could feel and demonstrate more resilience
each day. What would that look like? I look forward to your comments and ideas.