Making Yourself Indispensable

In preparing for an upcoming conference, I reread “Making Yourself Indispensable” by Jack Zenger, Joe Folkman, and Scott Edinger published in Harvard Business Review.


Making Yourself Indispensablesuccinctly summarizes Zenger Folkman’s groundbreaking strengths-based research with practical advice on applying their findings. Woven throughout the article is an example of Tom, a midlevel executive struggling with how to improve his leadership from good to great. This will make him an exceptional leader — and indispensable to his organization.


Here’s some of the key findings and advice in the article:

• Moving from good to great leadership calls for a non-linear cross-training approach. This article is one of the only places Zenger Folkman’s proprietary research is publicly mapped out for each of their 16 differentiating competencies.
• In the absence of a full 360 assessment, leaders can do an informal 360 by asking team members, colleagues, and their boss these questions: What leadership skills do you think are strengths for me? Is there anything I do that might be considered a fatal flaw – that could derail my career or lead me to fail in my current job if it’s not addressed? What leadership ability, if outstanding, would have the most significant impact on the productivity or effectiveness of the organization? What leadership abilities of mine have the most significant impact on you?
Exceptional leadership in the top 10% comes from elevating just five (any five) of the 16 competencies to a profound strength (90th percentile). Moving just one strength from good (75th percentile) to great (90th) boosts a leader’s rated effectiveness from the bottom third to the top third.
The best way to decide what leadership strength to develop is to align it with personal passions and the organization’s need for that leader’s role. The article provides the CPO (Competency, Passion, and Organizational Need) grid we use in The Extraordinary Leader workshop to do that.

The article concludes with this observation from the authors; “Often executives complain to us that there are not enough good leaders in their organizations. We would argue that in fact far too many leaders are merely good. The challenge is not to replace bad leaders with good ones; it is to turn people like Tom — hardworking, capable executives who are reasonably good at their jobs — into outstanding leaders with distinctive strengths.”


For over 30 years, Jim Clemmer’s practical leadership approaches have been inspiring action and achieving results. He has delivered thousands of keynote presentations, workshops, and management team retreats to hundreds of organizations around the globe moving his audiences from inspiration to application. He’s listed in the World’s Top 30 Most Influential Leadership Gurus based on research with 22,000 global business people, consultants, academics and MBAs. His website is

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