There is No Indispensable Man

I don’t remember exactly when, but I know that I first came across the anonymous poem “The Indispensable Man” long before I joined the Army. I was probably working at Walmart at the time. I was the overnight manager, just 18 years old and about to graduate high school, with a crew of about 40 other employees all well my senior in age and experience. I had convinced myself that I ran the whole store, all by myself, managing operations, security, restock, checkout, and customer service all at the same time, between the hours of 10pm and 6am.

I was indispensable. If I quit my job and moved on the entire store would have to close. Clearly, I was wrong.

Sometime when you’re feeling important;
Sometime when your ego’s in bloom;
Sometime when you take it for granted,
You’re the best qualified in the room:
Sometime when you feel that your going,
Would leave an unfillable hole,
Just follow these simple instructions,
And see how they humble your soul.

Take a bucket and fill it with water,
Put your hand in it up to the wrist,
Pull it out and the hole that’s remaining,
Is a measure of how much you’ll be missed.
You can splash all you wish when you enter,
You may stir up the water galore,
But stop, and you’ll find that in no time,
It looks quite the same as before.

The moral of this quaint example,
Is to do just the best that you can,
Be proud of yourself but remember,
There’s no indispensable man.

Since joining the Army I’ve learned the importance of flexibility. Not only should you be open to learning new jobs and taking on new challenges, but it is your duty as a responsible Soldier to prepare yourself to be replaced.

A good leader works themselves out of a job. They teach, coach, mentor, and prepare their subordinates to take over.

  • If you are protecting your rice bowl, your slice of the pie that only you can handle, you’re doing it wrong.
  • If your subordinates have to figure it out for themselves, you’re doing it wrong.
  • If every time is the first time an issue has come up, you’re doing it wrong.
  • If you have ever said “that’s just the way it is”, you’re doing it wrong.
  • If you have ever said “that’s just how we do it here”, you’re doing it wrong.
  • And if you, and your subordinates, do not understand why something is done, you’re doing it wrong.

As a leader, you should have absolutely no doubt that the Army will keep rolling along just fine without you. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have an impact, it just means that your impact is what you leave behind, not what you do day-to-day.