Making yourself indispensable at work

i'm_not_perfect_but-74780In class, we learnt that one of the six principles of persuasion is scarcity. The term might seem more aptly applied in a marketing context through ubiquitous slogans such as “Limited Edition” and “Last Day of Sale”. However, through my research, I have found that when this principle is applied to our daily lives especially in the context of work, the potential effect is tremendous and life-changing.

According to a study conducted by Pwc[1], millennial want greater flexibility , work / life balance and global opportunities at work. These are invaluable insights into how an organisation can attract a millennial to work for them. However, I believe the inverse relationship is more pertinent and applicable to us. We need to be cognizant of how to position ourselves in a way that will attract an organisation to hire us and make ourselves indispensable to the company.

It should be noted that people mistake indispensable for irreplaceable. Everyone can be replaced. However, to be indispensable would mean being so good at your job that your boss and co-workers could not imagine replacing you. [2]

imagesFirstly, it is important to monopolise a particular skill at work. Hence, you need to find a particular task within the organisation that only you would know to execute. This could happen when someone with a unique skill leaves the company or when a new initiative is created that requires a skill the company never had before.

If you currently do not have a unique skill, fret not as it can be acquired through training [3]. For instance, if the company has a social media platform which no one knows how to fully utilise, going for an analytics course in this domain would make you more valuable to the company. Besides that, just by showing the initiative and desire to grow and develop new skills, you demonstrate to your boss that you are a great asset.

Secondly, even if you have a unique skill, there are no guarantees on what will be valued going forwards. Hence, it is important to keep expanding your skills every year. You can master a language that is not required of your position (be it Mandarin or HTML), stay current with technology and trends and continually improve your oral and written communication skills. Through this approach, not only are you expanding your skill sets, but you are also expanding your social network through the relationships you build in the pursuit of attaining those skills.

As you build your skills, it is important to keep your resume up to date and be aware of other opportunities through the network that you build. This is necessary even if you are not leaving your job because you should always keep your options open. In fact, by having an updated resume on platforms such as LinkedIn, you are potentially putting yourself in a position whereby other companies are competing for your skills which makes you more valuable at work and open to promotion.

Thirdly, beyond building new skills or expanding them, you could monopolise an important relationship to make yourself indispensable. You should find relationships that are crucial to the company’s survival and become the contact person for that relationship. As you build the relationship over time, you would be the only person who is a trusted advisor to that company making you essential to the company.

Besides that, you could also find ways to stand out in the organisation. One way would be to be a thought leader. Instead of subscribing to group think, you could apply yourself in a way that provides new and innovative thinking that will benefit your company. Hence, you should not be afraid to put your ideas across. Even if the idea was not accepted, people will value you for your unique insights.

A downside to being indispensable is that you are constantly putting pressure on yourself to live up to high expectations, hence when you encounter failure, it can be quite noticeable. However, it should be noted that it is much better to be seen as indispensable and fail once in a while that not being seen as indispensable at all.




Charisma : Is it truly a trait ?

SelfHelpWith the plethora of self-help books on leadership, one aspect that has been laboriously rehashed over again albeit in different iterations is charisma. When taken at its literal meaning, charisma refers to a divinely conferred power [1]. 

Over the years, there had been a rise in terms of visibility of leaders who exhibit this trait on the global stage. In politics, Barack Obama enthralled America with his vision of an America where endless possibilities can become a reality through his mantra of “Yes, we can”. In technology, Steve Jobs is a visionary maverick given his ability to sell products that people did not previously think they need such as the IPad. Through the high visibility of charismatic leaders in various domains and given the pervasiveness of the Internet and social media, these leaders have attained an almost cult-like status.

Hence, it is with little surprise that in recent years, numerous ordinary people are reading countless tomes of self-help books on charisma, attending seminars or enrolling in courses in an effort to chase this elusive trait and become extraordinary.

However, given all matters that are amorphous and hard to quantify, there has been many confusion on this matter. The most common confusion is whether charisma can be trained or is it a trait? In class, we identified charisma as a trait. This holds true for many classical literature in management which looks at charisma from a trait approach whereby one is determined to possess charisma by exhibiting certain behaviours such as being visionary, energetic, unconventional and exemplary [2].

However, in recent years, numerous studies have shown an increased acceptance of another approach to charisma; the theatrical approach [3][4]. The theatrical approach examines charisma as a behaviour that can be enacted through attributions of charisma in both verbal and non-verbal behaviours. [5]

Hence, what these research suggests is that although charisma has been classically defined as a trait, it has also been identified as an ability that can be trained in ordinary people through the theatrical approach. Although the effectiveness of the theatrical approach has not yet been quantitatively proven, it does bear some credence to the philosophy instilled in self-help books and charisma workshops especially given the deluge of literature examining this approach.

all the world a stageWith that in mind, according to an article in the Harvard Business Review, anyone trained in “charismatic leadership tactics” (CLTs) can become more influential, trustworthy and leader-like to their followers through nine verbal and three non-verbal behaviours that can be exhibited [6].

To be a charismatic speaker, it is important to help listeners understand, relate to and remember a message. A powerful way of achieving this is through using metaphors, similes, analogies and lastly, stories and anecdotes. Martin Luther King Jr. was a master of the metaphor. In his iconic speech, “I have a Dream”, he likened the U.S. Constitution to “a promissory note” guaranteeing the unalienable rights of liberty to all people but noted that America had instead given its black citizens “a bad check,” one that had come back marked “insufficient funds.” By attributing the current situation to that which is easily understood by many – receiving a bad check, the message is crystal clear and easy to retain.

Another key verbal CLT is contrast as it combine reason and passion by clarifying one’s position by juxtaposing it with the opposite, often to a dramatic effect. An example would be John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”. Besides that, using rhetorical devices encourages engagement from the audience and ensures that the interaction is a two-way street. Three-part lists are another effective persuasion tool because it distils any message into three key takeaways. The reason it is three is because most people can only remember three things which is enough to provide proof of pattern and give an impression of completeness.

The remaining three verbal CLTs are expressions of moral conviction which establishes your credibility by revealing the quality of your character to your listeners, setting high goals which helps demonstrate one’s passion and lastly due to the high goals set, it is important to convey confidence that the goals can be achieved.

nonverbalLastly, the three nonverbal cues—expressions of voice, body, and face—are also key to charisma. Although it does not come naturally to everyone, it represents the most culturally sensitive tactics. In fact, what is perceived as too much passion in certain Asian contexts might be perceived as too muted in a European one. Despite the challenges, it is important to be adept at understanding nonverbal cues so as to truly master the art of charisma.



[2] House, R. J., & Howell, J. M. 1992. Personality and charismatic leadership. Leadership Quarterly, 3: 81-108.

[3] Bass, B. M. 1988. Evolving perspectives on charismatic leadership. In J. A. Conger & R. N. Kanungo (Eds.), Charismatic leadership: The elusive factor in organizational effectiveness: 40-77. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

[4] Bass, B. M. 1990. Bass & Stogdill’s handbook of leadership: Theory, research, & managerial applications (3rd ed.). New York: Free Press.

[5] Howell, J. M., & Frost, P. J. 1989. A laboratory study of charismatic leadership. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Process, 43: 243-269.

[6] Learning Charisma by John Antonakis, Marika Fenley, and Sue Liechti. June 2012 . Harvard Business Review.

The motivational issue of Singaporeans at work

Each individual has their own unique blend of reasons that motivates them to go to work.  Classically speaking, motivation is the processes that account for an individual’s intensity, direction and persistence of effort toward attaining a goal. In this case, towards achieving the organisational goals that have been set based on one’s job role.

In the past, Singaporeans have received the dubious honour of being “emotionless” and amongst the unhappiest in the world. Now, it has claimed another title as revealed in a recent Gallup poll, three in four Singaporean are “not engaged” in their work – meaning that they lack motivation to invest effort in organisational goals. This incidence rate is one of the highest in the world; far surpassing countries such as the United States (52 per cent) and Britain (57 per cent).

The Three Types of Employees

These findings brought to mind a recent dinner conversation I had with my friend, Jane, currently working as an analyst for a Swiss bank. Jane describes her current role as incredibly stressful as she needs do a timely and accurate reconciliation of trade transactions before 10 am every day. Failure to do so will lead to fines being imposed on the bank. This had caused her numerous sleepless nights with a recurring nightmare that she was late for work. In the end, she revealed that she was actively looking for another job. This might not raise any eyebrows but within the past three years, Jane has switched jobs three times – all of which are in the Financial Industry. And she is not the exception, but the norm especially for the millennial generation.

The Gallup findings portent a troubling future for Singapore. With a workforce that is unhappy, emotionless and “not engaged”, how could Singapore continue to sustainably compete on an international stage without leaving its citizens permanent emotional scars , constantly job-hopping or losing billions in lost productivity?

A storm is brewingAt a more severe level, a workforce that is “actively disengaged” not only spells doom in terms of productivity but carries more sinister undercurrents. From a productivity viewpoint, Gallup estimates that “actively disengaged” employees cost the Singapore economy about $6 billion in lost productivity. What is more troubling is in the survey findings, it was revealed that one in seven are so unhappy that they are “more or less out to damage their company” through acts like malingering or even stealing.

This is a serious problem. If nothing is done to address the issue that is facing the populace, this trend could be incredibly damaging to Singapore’s reputation of a multitude of hubs.

My personal take on this issue is for every individual, in particular, the Millennial to find a job that suits their passion and personality. It is important to not subscribe to society’s stereotypical notions of a successful career which is to be a doctor, lawyer, banker and so forth.

 “Don’t be trapped by dogma- which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary” – Steve Jobs

If one finds a job that is aligned with their interests, then the job would transcend beyond just ordinary work and has the potential to be truly transformative. For example, if someone is interested in Finance; he is more likely to put in the longer hours because he does not mind taking the extra time to pursue his passion which coincidentally coincides with the organisational goals. Such a worker is less likely to be “not engaged” or “actively disengaged”.

On the other hand ,if you are currently in a role that you do not have a passion for, you should take the leap of fate towards one which you will enjoy.  Take for instance, Cheng Hsin Yao, who throughout his life was a high-achieving Singaporean. He eventually landed a job as an investment banker working insufferable long hours which he was handsomely compensated for. Despite the prestige and monetary motivations, he left his plushy job and five-figure salary behind to pursue his entrepreneurial dreams of starting his own designer burger chain called Omasake burger.Cheng Hsin Yao

There are many Cheng Hsin Yao out there who took the leap of faith to pursue their dream. Iskandar Asmon, an engineer left his job to become a teacher because he loves working with children and has their welfare at heart. Hence, I believe finding a job that one derives pleasure from is the first step to be emotionally engaged. All that is needed is to identify what it is and to take that one leap of faith.


References :

  1. Robbins, S., & Judge, T. (2012). Organizational Behavior. Prentice Hall.
  2. Singapore Unhappiest:
  3. Singaporeans second most unhappy employees worldwide :
  4. Singaporeans “emotionless”:
  5. “Not engaged” Singaporeans:
  6. Emotionally Stressed Singaporeans:
  7. Cost of Worker’s Disengagement:
  8. Millennial Job-Hoppers:
  9. Cheng Hsin Yao – Investment Banker to Burger Entrepreneur:
  10. Switch Career – Teacher: