Here’s the bad news: you’ll always be replaceable.
People at companies are replaced all the time. Sometimes they’re fired. Sometimes they take new opportunities and move on, and the company’s left scrambling to find someone to take their place. People who appear to be the backbone of a company schism and go elsewhere, and the company still carries on. Even Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, was fired from his own company and replaced. If that can happen, then it can happen to anyone.
Here’s the good news: you can create job security.
Your question is a good one. There’s even an answer. But it deserves slight reframing (and the answer to the question will start to become apparent as I lay out the mindset shift).
Instead of asking “can I be replaced?” (because the answer will always be yes), ask instead “how much does it cost to replace me?”
How expensive/time consuming is it for my company to find someone to replace me/train someone to replace me?
The higher that replacement cost, the harder it is to make the transition, the less the company will be inclined to incur that cost, and the more job security you’ll have.
In business, we talk a lot about being indispensable (the book Lynchpin talks about this in detail). That’s the goal — to be so valuable people want/need to keep you.
The progression of professional development:
- To become so impressive people want to hire you
- To become so valuable people want to keep you
- To develop so much potential people want to promote you
Becoming indispensable is what drives those second two measures of success — maintaining your job and leveraging it into a better job.
So how do you do that?
- The more knowledge you have of how the company works, the more valuable you are. A random hire who can produce the same numbers as you has the same monetary value as you (and the cost of your replacement is directly equal to their salary + hiring/onboarding costs), but knowledge of the company is harder to replace, because it takes time and energy to acquire, and a random hire won’t have it.
- The more knowledge you have of your department, the better.
- The more cross-department knowledge you have, the more valuable you become. Now you’re more valuable than an employee who has singular knowledge of either one of those two departments.
- The more skills you have, the better — hard and soft both. A variety of skills exponentially increases your value, because the combination becomes harder to find/replace.
- The greater your ability to do creative work, the more valuable you become. Fulfilling your job description is valuable; creating things that have a lasting impact at your company carries far more weight, because those things change the value of the company itself.
And the practical step-by-step process to get you there:
- First, focus on doing your job really, really well. Master your job description. Become the best at your company at fulfilling it. This is base-level competence/value, which is required for your company to keep you in the first place.
- Go above and beyond. Take on additional side projects, create solutions to solve problems you see within the company. This increases your value, because now replacing you requires not only fulfilling your job description, but other things too.
- Start to learn how to chip in within other departments. Once you’re going above and beyond in your own department, look elsewhere. Are there things you can provide the marketing team that help them create better content? Information you can help the operations department collect? A shift you can pick up manning the live chat for customer success? The greater your contextual knowledge of the company, the more valuable you are in your own department and to the company as a whole.
- Learn, learn, learn. This one’s underrated, but seriously valuable. The smarter you are, the more information you have to work with, the more problems you can solve, and the more value you have the capacity to create. Study. Research. Relentlessly pursue making yourself smarter. The raw information you carry becomes part of what you bring to the table at a job, and becomes something a potential replacement likely won’t have.
So, to sum it up …
Instead of becoming 100% irreplaceable (a losing battle, because you’ll never make it), you want to focus on making the cost of replacing you so high that it isn’t worth the bother. Becoming indispensable means that you’re so good that it will cost a company a ridiculous amount of time, money, and other resources to replace you. They won’t ever want to.
When you hit that point, you’ve become functionally irreplaceable.
[Photo byon ]
I was 20 years old when I took my first coaching session. On the outside I was smiling, relatively cool, relatively collected. I was acting the part of the coach. I was here to solve problems — I got this.
On the inside I was terrified. I was plagued by questions — “Am I qualified for this? What if they ask me a question and I don’t know what to say? What if I’m not helpful at all? How do I know if I’m actually a coach?”
I had no idea what I was doing going into that call. I’d signed up to be a coach and I was taking my shot in the dark.
I shot and I hit. It wasn’t fancy, it wasn’t beautiful, but I hit the mark. I got on that call and I coached.
When I came out the other side (having answered the client’s questions and helped them identify the direction they needed to move to start solving their problems), I was on an adrenaline high. I did it. I’m a coach!
It turned out I had known what I was doing — I just hadn’t know it.
Storytime aside, here’s the TL;DR version of my answer: start coaching.
If you want to be, do. It’s quite simple.
More on how to do that in a second. First, let’s talk about what a coach is and does — then we’ll talk about how to start.
A good coach is able to:
- listen really well (your client always wants to feel heard)
- ask questions that help the client identify their problems
- help brainstorm solutions for the problem
- help their clients put together a plan of attack for implementing those solutions
If you boil it all down to the simplest terms, that’s really all a coach does. There are lots of different types of coaches, with different sets of qualifications and specialties. Some will be experts and propose solutions. Others will just walk with you through the process of finding solutions for yourself.
Your approach will depend on the level of expertise you bring to the table, but most beginning coaches will start out just walking beside their client (I like to use the word “facilitating”). That’s certainly what I was when I started out.
You don’t need expertise to start. All you really need are people to coach.
To become a full-time coach, you’ll need other things too — a little business savvy, a brand, and a steady source of income. Each of those topics deserves a post all to itself. I’m just going to focus here on the raw coaching itself, and all that requires are the people to work with.
So where do you find those people?
I’m going to backtrack for a second — because how does a 20-year-old college opt-out (no credentials here) get a paid coaching gig?
Full disclosure, it was a long road to get there. I started developing my coaching muscle in high school, while I was working as an editor. Being an editor requires a) helping people refine/get better at what they do, and b) explaining the logic of the changes you’re making, so the people you’re working with understand them too. Editing made me good at teaching, and at seeing where people were struggling and needed to get better.
After I graduated high school, I decided not to go to college, and I started teaching writing classes instead. I worked with homeschooled kids age 7–14, and I learned a lot about teaching, mentoring, and facilitating people while they refined their capacity as writers. I got even better at communicating the places I was seeing where my students needed to improve.
When I started working for Praxis in August of 2016, I was in the operations department, but our team had a full staff of coaches (since we’re an education startup!). I’d been at the company for almost a year when I finally pitched myself to become an advisor — and when our education director said yes, I put my profile and my Calendly (pictured above!) up on our private participant site. I was so excited when I got my first booking — which then turned into nervousness, and then terror, and then excitement again when I not only survived my first coaching call, but proved myself as a valuable resource.
I’ve been coaching with Praxis for almost two years now, and full-time for a year and a half. I train our coaches now, too. So what I did seems to have worked. 😉
To turn the above story into general advice:
It doesn’t really matter where you start. The most important thing is to find people to work with and start coaching. Once you start to get reps under your belt, you become more legit. People start to notice. You become more confident. It starts to get a little easier.
If you don’t have a track record as a coach, finding existing structures to coach within will help you get off the ground (like I did by working as a writing teacher, than as a coach at Praxis).
If you don’t want to work within an existing structure, find a pain point you can help people resolve and start to create a niche around it (helping young people figure out what they want to do after high school? Helping yoga teachers turn their passion into a business? Helping writers actually sit down and write, and finally break through their creative block?). Make sure it’s something you know something about, but don’t worry about being an expert. You’ll become an expert through the act of coaching.
Take some clients for free to start, to get testimonials and experience. Ask for referrals.
Over time, you’ll start to build up a client base — and with each new client helped, every new problem resolved, you’ll become a better coach.
And again — do not, I repeat, do not, worry about being an expert.
I’m going to reference that story I told again. Remember how terrified I was?
If I’d waited until I was “ready” to coach, I never would have started. Two years later, I still wouldn’t be coaching. I’d probably still be too scared to start — because I’m still not an expert, and no amount of “preparation” can ever make you ready.
Have you heard the adage “we don’t know what we don’t know?”
Here’s the other side of the coin, and one of my favorite truths about life: we also don’t know what we do know. I learned this on that first coaching call — and the countless calls and meetings I’ve taken since.
We have a lot of information we collect on a daily basis but never force ourselves to actually stop and acknowledge. You don’t realize you have this information until someone asks you a question and you’re in a situation you have to answer — or at least try.
You might panic a little. You ask clarifying questions to stall for time, while in your head you’re trying to figure out a way to tactfully say “I’m sorry, I don’t know.” And without realizing it, your stalling questions turn into resolutions to the problem, and your client is happy, and you’re happy too, because you’re coaching and it’s working.
The point being: you don’t have to know everything to be a coach. Don’t expect yourself to, and don’t use that as an excuse to not begin.
If you want to be a coach, start coaching.
Note: read the original Quora post here!