Roger West CEO Michael Westafer Featured in Tampa Bay Business Journal

August 04, 2020

Michael Westafer, Founder and CEO of Roger West, shares his thoughts on how to become a modern-day linchpin in a featured article for the Tampa Bay Business Journal Leadership Trust. Read the full article below:

How to become a modern-day linchpin in a post-pandemic world

When Seth Godin published his manifesto, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?, it’s unlikely he knew a decade later, the entire world would be forced to reexamine what it means to be essential. Since the coronavirus pandemic reached our shores, “essential” has dominated the global lexicon. Essential workers. Essential businesses. Essential services. This resurgence of essentialism doesn’t just apply to business. Nationwide self-isolation protocols encouraged us to take inventory of every aspect of life to determine what was needed to survive the immediate future.

Masks, toilet paper, cleaning products, alcohol and junk food were among the first items to fly off the shelves. With the threat of anemic paychecks, business closures and unemployment looming, we were all left to ponder our dispensability. What made some workers or businesses essential while others were forced to close up shop? While healthcare and groceries seem like obvious answers, there’s more to it than that. Who serves the essential businesses? Much like a supply chain, being essential is the accumulation of services rendered.

Lysol wipes or beer nuts: Which one will you be?

Even if you weren’t professionally impacted by the pandemic, now is a great time to evaluate your role in life, both professionally and personally. Ask yourself: Do you want to be the Lysol wipes that everyone needs, or the bag of beer nuts hanging on the end cap?

The linchpin is a coveted moniker, though few who aspire to the role ever achieve it. Godin fondly defined his linchpin ideal as someone who pours their heart, soul and energy into their work — someone who makes the conscious choice to overcome fear and gives without expecting reciprocation.

If you want to be essential, you’re not just making one choice to do so. You’re making a series of consecutive choices to serve others in pursuit of security. Talking about being a linchpin is great, but how do you actualize the ideal?

Three key factors to being an essential business

While what’s deemed essential is greatly subjective, there are three key factors to consider:

  1. The services that are offered.
  2. How well these services are performed.
  3. The cost of said services.

As the CEO and founder of a marketing agency, I’m striving for the trifecta. I want my agency to offer essential services to clients. I want my team to be linchpins in their departments, and I want everyone to become essential in their home life as much as I want those things for myself. It sounds impossible, but that’s the fear talking — the prerequisite anxiety before the resolution. You have to choose to overcome it. This is the path that many essential workers went down during the first wave of the pandemic. The circumstances are vastly different, but the goal is the same: Be an invaluable member of a team, an organization, of society.

At the peak of the coronavirus outbreak, many of our clients in the hospitality business took a big hit. Losing a substantial portion of their business made them reassess their needs, especially from a marketing perspective. Some decided that we weren’t essential.

For others, we were a linchpin. We don’t provide the same services to every single client, making us more essential to some than others. This could be the determining factor of our fate as an essential business. I’ve realized that if you’re striving for high quality that meets the client’s budget, then it comes down to prioritization.

Your client roster and project scope must be well balanced between primary, secondary and tertiary services. A sustainable ratio will keep your business secure in the event of another reckoning.

Are you essentially essential?

This is how you make an organization essential, but what about you? If you want to become a linchpin at work, evaluate your efficacy within the business. Essential workers, in this context, put maximum effort into their work, act without being stifled by fear and give without expectation. The three performance indicators I mentioned earlier are still important on an individual level.

Do you need explicit instructions before you can complete a task? This might suggest that you aren’t yet essential. Autonomy is important for linchpins, who perform independently regardless of heavy oversight. A linchpin would rather beg for forgiveness than ask for permission. When it comes to work, you should always perform more than you pontificate.

Be a hero at home

So you think you’ve made it or you’re well on your way. You’re not only employed by a stable and essential business, but you’re a vital member of your team. Those same services and costs mean something a little different at home than they do at work, but they remain equally important.

What do you offer to your family and friends in terms of love, emotional or even financial support? Are you consistent and reliable? Do you give love and support without the expectation of getting it back? The requirements of being a linchpin are the same no matter where you are, even if the definitions need a minor adjustment.

The coronavirus had a ripple effect. It inspired us all to observe our behaviors and role in the world and hopefully encouraged us to pivot toward a better path. We all want to be essential, but we don’t necessarily have the tools or skills to get ourselves there.

The first step in becoming a linchpin is to figure out exactly what that means for you both at work and at home. It will look different. They say that you can’t please everyone, and that’s true, but you should aspire to be essential in the areas that matter most to you. If you want to be indispensable, think about all of the ways you could be better. Assess your role on the macro and micro. Make a choice, and then follow through again and again until you know that the machine can’t operate without you.