Leadership Magic
Becoming an Indispensable Leader by Transforming Your Business Relationships (Part Two)

by Rod Robison

What is the difference between a leader and an indispensable leader?  And why does it matter? 

Effective leadership is the key to most any successful career. Whether your business is a one-person enterprise or you work for or own a corporation with hundreds or even thousands of employees, effective leadership makes all the difference.  But becoming an indispensable leader – one who is essential to the business’s success – puts you in an entirely different category of leadership.  As an indispensable leader your employer knows they can’t afford to let you go. Even in a tough business environment.  No…especially in a tough business environment. 

In Part One of this Leadership Magic series, I shared that after I accepted my first job in broadcast marketing I promised myself that I would become a leader that my employer could never afford to let go.  Admittedly, I had failures as a leader. Some of them pretty embarrassing. But I kept my promise to myself and grew in my executive leadership roles. Which leads me to the first of this next series of simple but powerful strategies for being an indispensable leader. 

Don’t beat yourself up.

In Part One of this series I emphasize the importance of setting and achieving SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-based.  But understand that you will fall short of some of your goals.  When you do it’s easy to internalize the shortfall as a failure and, in turn, feel like a failure yourself.  You very likely know the story of Thomas Edison’s 10,000 failed attempts to invent a workable incandescent light bulb.  A reporter asked him how it felt to fail that many times. Edison’s response revealed the can do attitude that made him the greatest inventor of the past several hundred years.  “I have not failed,” he assured the reporter, “I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” He didn’t consider his perceived failures as failures. They were opportunities to learn what didn’t work, then apply that knowledge and move on toward success.  So don’t beat yourself up when you fail. Rather, like Edison and most high achievers, consider your shortfalls as opportunities to learn. 

Keep your employees encouraged, especially during discouraging times.

You set the tone for your organization.  When things aren’t going well you can bet that your team members – especially your most valuable ones – are probably beating themselves up. So they don’t need you to join in on the flogging.  Tough times are the best times to let them know they are appreciated and that you are proud of them. 

Surround yourself with people who know more than you do.

That was Henry Ford’s advice and it served him pretty well.  Ford didn’t have know everything about his massively successful business.  He had a set of buttons on his desk so that when he had a question he couldn’t answer himself he would push the button summoning the person who did know.  

When I first started my career I somehow had the mistaken impression that as a leader I had to know more than everyone else on my team.  That was a heavy – and unnecessary – burden to carry. I soon learned that great leaders surround themselves with experts, then they lead those experts to achieve success.  

Educate yourself.

Remember the story of the woodchopper who was so busy cutting wood that he never got around to sharpening his axe?  It’s very easy to be so task-focused that you put off sharpening your expertise as a leader. Now that I’ve retired from executive leadership in broadcasting and dedicating more of my time to leadership consulting and my corporate magic and mentalism entertainment business, I spend some of that time educating myself in my chosen field.  There is an endless buffet of delicious learning that can be had by those hungry for success. So schedule time to interact with others in your field outside of your office where your mind is more refreshed and less distracted. Read periodicals and books or watch videos related to your career. Put “sharpen my axe” time on your calendar. 

Find the waste and redirect it to ROI.

Countless companies have died slow – and sometimes rapid – deaths because their leadership refused to root out waste and invest that money in things that will propel the company forward.  Some expenditures are good expenditures in that they accomplish some return on investment (ROI) for the company. But often they don’t return the best ROI.   After doing an honest and thorough assessment of how you are stewarding your organizational budget’s ROI, invest in projects, staff, education, and, as needed, consultants who can help you leverage your budget more effectively.  At the risk of sounding self-serving, consider the goodwill ROI you’ll realize by thanking your employees and customers with appreciation events with some fun, magical entertainment. Yes, I’d be happy to help you with that. 

Don’t allow your business to define you.  

That is a tall order for those who are driven to succeed.  I struggle with it all the time. But you are much more than your business. You are not the sum total of your financial bottom line. Don’t allow yourself to fall into that trap.  Relentlessly pursue balance in your life. 

Tell stories.

Facts speak to the head.  Stories speak to the heart.  Decision-making – purchases for instance – are primarily driven by emotion.  The mind uses facts to justify the purchase but the heart signs the deal. If your company is impacting people’s lives – and hopefully it is – there are stories to be told that will inspire your staff and customers to take action.  

Richard Montañez was the son of a poor immigrant family.  He dropped out of school because his grasp of the English language was barely functional.  When he landed a job as a janitor at Frito-Lay his father told him, “When you mop that floor make that floor shine.  Work hard. Make people proud to know you.” And he did just that. Even as a janitor, he was an indispensable leader.  Especially the day he boldly called the CEO of Frito-Lay to pitch an idea he had just come up with – putting chili powder on Cheetos.  You guessed it, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos were born. Richard’s entrepreneurial spirit and indispensable leader attitude put him on the road to eventually becoming an executive vice president of the company.  

Having now read his inspiring story, I’ll bet the next time you see a bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos in the grocery store you’ll think about Richard Montañez and maybe even get a warm (no pun intended) feeling associated with the product.  

Use people’s names.

Dale Carnegie, author of arguably one of the greatest relational books of all time, How to Win Friends and Influence People, said, “A person’s name is to that person, the sweetest, most important sound in any language.”  When you call someone by name it tells them you care about them. It builds trust. It creates rapport.  And trust and rapport are the foundation upon which rich relationships and successful businesses are built.

These eight strategies along with the twelve in Part One of this series will revolutionize your leadership when applied consistently.  Biting off all twenty at one time will likely set you up for overload.  Dedicating yourself to a few at a time – especially those that resonate the most with you and your situation – will be your most effective course of action.  But do take action today and you’ll be on the path toward indispensable leadership.

Next, we’ll reveal a few more strategies for becoming an indispensable business leader.

About Rod Robison

Rod Robison’s executive leadership career spans four decades with network broadcast companies, as a consultant, and as an event entertainer and speaker. His comedy magic and mentalism show Mentallusions is featured at some of the country’s finest resorts and has entertained corporate audiences for the past twenty years. Rod, his wife Jeannie, and their family enjoy life in the desert at their Tucson, Arizona ranch home.