Top 10 Ways To Become Invaluable Without Becoming Irreplaceable (Self-directed Learner)

Figuring out how to develop your leadership skills is hard - but it is something that you can do yourself, regardless of where you are in your career, or how senior you are in an organisation. Find the Top 10 Tips to Developing Your Career from exactly where you are right now.

Leading the Fleet Á. Padriñán

Over the years, many people have asked me for career advice, for coaching, or just straight out asked me how I progressed so rapidly in my own career.  At first I felt ill-qualified to answer the question at all, but over time I developed an answer – ten simple steps I will share here.  It is leadership development – but not as you know it.

The point is to become invaluable without becoming irreplaceable.

In this post I share 10 Steps for doing exactly that.

10 Step Leadership Development – From Wherever You Are

Leading the Fleet
Photo: Á. Padriñán

Even if you don’t know where you want to get to, or where you want to go next, start by being exceptionally good at what you are doing right now, especially if your role has no formal leadership or management responsibility.

This sounds easy, but it isn’t.

Step 1: Make sure you know what your immediate boss thinks you should be doing

Ask him or her, read your position description and performance plan carefully, ask questions (at a time that isn’t inconvenient) and really understand how your performance will be measured and assessed.  Once you have this mastered – do it.  Do it well.  Consistently.  And with minimal intervention, assistance or correction.  Before you can anticipate the next step in your leadership development journey, you do, unfortunately, need to be very good at what you are currently supposed to be doing!

Step 2: Embrace feedback – and actively seek it out

Always embrace feedback – even when it’s delivered inexpertly.  Even the most poorly constructed feedback offers something to learn from.  Remember, feedback isn’t actually about you – it’s about the other person’s perception of what you have done.  Never take it personally, but always be gracious and actively identify changes you can make so that person changes his or her perception of the quality of your work.

If feedback isn’t forthcoming – ask for it.  Politely.

Step 3: Learn your boss’s job

Not because you’re going to do it, but because you need to try and project yourself into his or her shoes.  By doing this, you can start to see things that would make your boss’s job easier.  You can anticipate needs and deliver things that will make him or her look like a superstar.  Don’t worry if you don’t get the credit, that reflects more on your boss than it does on you.

Step 4: Play to your strengths

Everybody has something they’re brilliant at.  If you don’t know what it is, there are a number of ways to find out, including Gallup’s StrengthsFinder®, and even just asking yourself a few questions, like:

  • When do I feel most happy at work?
  • What type of work have I had the most compliments about?
  • What have I been doing when time has ‘flown by'?
Leadership Strengths

Then, using those insights, look for additional tasks, projects, products, reports, training or services that you could design and offer, even if just for your colleagues, that will add value to your co-workers, your boss, your division, or even your whole organisation.  If you can make it happen without needing any budget or investment from the company, then just do it.  If it will use up other people’s time, then you should develop a proposal and discuss it with your boss first.

Don’t expect a perfect leadership development plan to be crafted for you – though this can happen, its relatively rare.  Do it yourself!

Step 5: Identify things that no one else is doing, that clearly need to be done

Related to Step 4 above, actively seek out the gaps and fill them.  If it isn’t an area of strength for you, learn it (in your own time), then do it.  Approach your employment as an opportunity for continuous improvement and to learn new skills that add value for your colleagues.

Step 6: Never say: “that’s not my job”

As a Chief Executive, I pick up trash, change the toilet paper roll and do the dishes, if it needs to be done.  I know that I’m not being paid for this, and I know that these tasks could be completed by someone who is being paid less than me.  But I also know that our organization is more successful if everyone pitches in.  If people tackle the task in front of them then little ‘niggly’ things don’t become big things.

Furthermore, there’s nothing more frustrating for a manager than asking a team member to do something and being greeted by a waved copy of a job description as an excuse not to take on the task.  Notice I use the word excuse.  Deliberately.  If you want your boss to see you as promotion-ready, you have to do the next job in addition to your own job.

Reframe it as an opportunity for leadership development!

Step 7: Share your innovations and top tips

Now that you’ve nailed your own role, teach others how to do it!  If you work in a team, make it your job to ensure that all your colleagues are equally as proficient as you, or even more.

Never fall into the trap of thinking that because you thought up these fabulous innovations, that you are more employable if you keep how you do it to yourself.  Be better at it, by all means, but never be the only person who can do it.  This is the ‘without being irreplaceable‘ bit.  If I have to pick between two employees for a big project, and they have equal skill and competency levels, but one of them shares their knowledge and the other doesn’t, I’ll pick the one who shares knowledge every single time, because they are making the whole organization more effective.

Step 8: Be the colleague people want to work with

This sounds obvious, but isn’t always easy.  If you’ve been following the first seven steps, chances are pretty good you’ve got this in hand, but just in case, it bears repeating…


If you have to spend 40+ hours at work every week, you want to spend it with people whose company you enjoy!  By all means be yourself, but…  Be friendly (but not over-friendly).  Be optimistic (but not unrealistic).  Be helpful (but not to the point of being annoying).  Be considerate (without being everyone’s Agony Aunt).  Don’t gossip.  Don’t be a slacker.  And be mindful that other people have different working styles than you – respect these.  Treat your co-workers with dignity and respect.  Always keep your word.

Step 9: Make sure there is a credible succession plan for you

Keys to Succession

This can sound counter-intuitive – but if you’re trying to grow your career, then it is only fair that your employer should be planning what to do when you’ve moved on.  Why not be a part of it?

If there’s someone in your team that could step up to your role, make sure you are offering them leadership development coaching and letting your boss know.  If you don’t manage staff, then make sure you have a great set of records (handover notes, desk-files, procedures) so that someone can pick up where you left off.  Also make sure you include some guidance around the ‘not in the job description’ work you’ve been picking up for the benefit of the team.

Step 10: Start actively exploring what’s next

For some people, what’s next will be within the same organisation, but for many people it isn’t.  Don’t wait for someone to tell you what is next – go out there and find it.

Have an ear to the ground for opportunities in your chosen field, or in the companies you’d like to work for.  Or maybe you want to become an entrepreneur.  Just remember, there is never a perfect time to change jobs, and all growth requires you to get out of your comfort zone, so don’t let fear hold you back.
I am a human systems futurist committed to making organisations and individuals more effective through the power of mindful, insightful and proactive leadership. I fundamentally believe that all people have the potential within them to achieve greatness. With my insights into the way systems work (and how to change them), how people communicate, and the way our own brains work (or don’t work) I strive to unleash this potential for the benefit of humankind.