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Linchpins — Broadly Defined

Make yourself indispensible. This is Seth Godin’s main message in Linchpin.[i] The best strategy to succeed in our current economy is to be proactively creative, he asserts. He does acknowledge the individual resistance that prevents many people from moving beyond a job that doesn’t draw on one’s full potential or unique gifts. Godin urges his readers to “stand up and be remarkable” (29). Who can disagree with the author’s impassioned effort to inspire?

And yet, chapter after chapter I found myself asking, where do groups fit in? Even if we leave the resistance factors aside, Godin stresses the power of individuals to such an extent that in this book he totally eclipses the power of groups to move our society forward. Given my questions, my next read will be Godin’s book Tribes (2008). According to his Ted Talk The Tribes We Lead, the transcript of which has been viewed a mere 1.4 million times, Godin states, “You don’t need permission from people to lead them. But in case you do, here it is: they’re waiting, we’re waiting for you to show us where to go next.” Once again, the spotlight is on the individual leader.

I have no doubt the drive of individual leaders can lead to progress in the marketplace, and even influence millions of people for good. Yet let’s think for a moment about the role of groups to move us forward in addressing problems, such as institutional racism, that seem to be fixtures in our society. In a recent round of stakeholder interviews conducted for a community-based client, I asked how this particular organization brings value to partnerships. I was told the organization “is always willing to come to the table to truly cooperate.” In other words, the organization has the capacity to see a collective goal as more important than its own ideas about a project, or perhaps even its own reputation. And I happen to know that this stance has resulted in successes for the community that would not have happened without collaboration. What if we viewed the entire organization, made up of a leader, a committed board, and hard working staff, as ONE linchpin?

Taking Godin’s philosophy and applying it to organizations is compelling. Certainly there are organizations that “are able to … find a new path, one that works” (58), as he asserts linchpin individuals do. Godin asks his readers, “Which hard work is worth doing” (207)? And I wonder why we don’t insist on asking this more regularly as a society, and better support linchpin associations, collaborations, and groups whose innovative approaches can create a more sustainable future.

While thinking about indispensability, Godin’s book also has me thinking about who is dispensable in our society. Given the national spotlight on use of force by police, it seems a linchpin is sometimes a person who is actually doing nothing exceptional, perhaps something even questionable, but who acts as a catalyst due to a combination of factors. As our country grapples with police norms that repeatedly threaten and too often kill men of color, what are the ‘linchpin moves’ we need to make in cities, towns and as a country? Godin asserts, “successful people are able to see the threads of the past and the threads of the future, and untangle them into something manageable” (185). My hope is that organizations, large groups of people, and yes, individual leaders, can see the threads and garner enough support to do the untangling.

[i] Godin, Seth. Linchpin — Are you Indispensable? NY: Portfolio, 2010. Print.

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