How to Become an Indispensable Leader

How to Become an Indispensable Leader

Quinn McDowell 6 min read

Warm Up

“The only way to be indispensable is to be different.” (Seth Godin)

Indispensable leaders are becoming more valuable than ever. Leaders who can authentically inspire their teams to sustained levels of success are the ones who are making the biggest impact in a new economy that is starving for love, courage, and authenticity.

Big data, analytics, and automation have fundamentally changed how we think about the business of building a team: everything has become measurable and quantifiable. Yet, the very things that are impossible (or extremely difficult) to measure—human connection, authenticity, purpose, etc—are becoming more crucial to the success of teams everywhere.

Indispensable leadership has never been more valuable because now more than ever teams are starving for leaders who can cut through the noise and are able to hone in and focus on what is most important. The leaders who can strike a balance between productivity and relationship, efficiency and love, results and embracing the process, are the leaders that ultimately become indispensable.


Leaders are everywhere today. But on any team, only a handful—if any—might be considered "indispensable." Their effectiveness is qualified by critical attributes that are less flashy but are more critical than skills, experience, and expertise.

The other part of the equation is filled by the things that are more difficult to calculate: the content of your character (Am I authentic?), the inclination of your heart (Do I make others better?), and the passionate pursuit of your purpose (Am I inspiring?). These are the questions that indispensable leaders must ask themselves if they are serious about having maximum impact on the people they lead.

The secret to becoming an indispensable leader is not solely found in adding another line to your resume or hitting your sales mark for the seventh consecutive quarter. Rather, the indispensable leader is the one who crafts a genuine connection with their team that inspires them to become the people, teammates, and workers they were created to be.

The focus of what exactly makes an indispensable leader can be summarized by these three questions. Let’s take a closer look.

Am I authentic?

Authenticity is the foundation for building trust, and trust is essential to indispensable leadership. The rise of social media and the daily bombardment of branded messaging has heightened our sensitivity to “sales speak.” People can smell inauthentic leadership a thousand miles away because our default position is one of extreme skepticism.

Teams are starved for original thinkers, leaders, and coaches who can cultivate an authentic experience of leadership. In a sports context, this means that coaches have to demonstrate their own authenticity by developing a relationship with their players that trumps the sole goal of wins and losses. As soon as players feel like pawns being manipulated for a coach’s personal gain, that coach’s authenticity flies out the window.

Do I make others better?

More than anything, your team wants to know that they are going to improve as a result of your leadership. Training, development, and personal growth are a necessary focus for the indispensable leader. Leaders that get really good at helping others ascend to a new plateau of maturity and competency in their craft, are the leaders who become indispensable.

For example, think about which college basketball programs always sign the best recruiting classes: Kentucky, Duke, Arizona, etc. John Calipari the head coach at Kentucky often gets criticized for promoting the “1 and done” culture in college basketball—where high school athletes will stay for one year in college and then jump straight to the NBA after their freshman season.

However, the reason that Calipari can consistently recruit the best talent in the country is because he has earned a reputation for helping players reach their dreams of playing professional basketball. (In the last 10 years, Kentucky has had the most players drafted in the NBA than any other college in the country!) Regardless of how you feel about the man personally, Calipari has worked hard to help his players develop on a personal level in the context of pursuing team success.

Am I inspiring?

The success of the indispensable leader is not measured in the number of units produced but by the number of people they can inspire. One of the clearest metrics by which great leaders can be judged, is whether their teams work with passion, conviction, and purpose.

We are all longing for authentic leadership that invites us into a culture created around something more important than personal accomplishment. The indispensable leader is the conduit through which their followers are able to join that kind of a culture. Because a leader is the one responsible for implementing, promoting, and executing a vision that causes the entire team to work towards a singular purpose.

Indispensable leaders understand that the effectiveness of their leadership is dependent on how well they inspire those around them to greatness. Inspiration lifts people to places where they would be unable to get on their own, making the team stronger in the process. When everyone is inspired to be at their very best, the entire team becomes infinitely more powerful.

Leaders, differentiate yourself by how well you serve, how deeply you love, and much you inspire. Make a difference not by how many games you win, but by how many lives you impact. “Indispensable” starts with a commitment to seeing others succeed. Define your leadership by a different set of metrics, a new kind of data. Judge your effectiveness by how well you listen, not by how much you fundraise.

Don't settle for average, never settle for “just good enough”; instead, strive for indispensable. Dig a little deeper, train a little bit harder, care a little bit more and watch the people around you rise to greatness.


Sit down and answer these three questions for yourself. Be as honest as possible with your own leadership assessment.

Am I authentic?

Do I make others better?

Am I inspiring?

Then give these three questions to five team-members and have them type their responses anonymously so you can look over the responses without bias.

Compare the two sets of results—how you answered the questions and how your team members answered them. Where did you overestimate your leadership abilities? Where can you improve? What strengths can you continue to cultivate?