Crewman Number Six - The Red Shirt
If you are fans of the original “Star Trek” series, then you know exactly what Guy Fleegman meant. Whenever Captain Kirk beamed down to a planet, he would usually take Mr. Spock and Dr. McCoy with him. Of course he would take at least one unidentified crewman, or “red shirt,” with him as well. This unidentified crewman was often referred to as crewman number six. This was the poor crewman who was expendable to the show and apparently to the Enterprise crew.
There was very little said about them at the end of the episode and years afterwards, no one remembers their names on the show or even the actors who played the parts. This is what Guy Fleegman was so afraid of in the Galaxy Quest movie — being the guy who was not all that important to the plot line; the guy who was not all that important to the crew; the guy who was expendable.
If you’ve ever been through a layoff, downsize, right size, or “moving in a different direction,” situation, you can feel like crewman number six. You were obviously expendable no matter how much you felt you weren’t. But why were you expendable? Why did the company no longer feel that they needed your experience and expertise? Sometimes it’s simply a financial decision. The company feels that it can find your kind of experience and expertise at a price tag that is less than what they are paying you.
But what if it wasn’t a money thing? What else made you expendable? You can think long and hard about it and come up with a dozen different reasons. It’s important to know why, but it’s more important to know how you can avoid those reasons when you land your next job.
Do you want to make yourself more indispensable? Here are 10 suggestions to consider:
Smile a lot – There are many ways we communicate even without saying a word. People draw conclusions about us in a quarter of a second. Our facial expressions send messages which people interpret. A frown or grimace indicates unapproachability. A friendly smile makes you more approachable. The more approachable you are the more people will want to talk to you.
Watch your attitude – Regardless of the things going on around you, do your very best to be objective. If things don’t go your way or if you don’t particularly like the way others are doing things, it’s imperative to stay positive. Look for ways to improve those things without offending others or making yourself look like a negative, uncooperative, winy complainer.
Be courteous to everyone – Whether it is your boss, or your boss’s boss, or the people you work with, or the people that work for you, or the janitor. Being courteous to everyone takes little to no effort but can have an amazing return on investment. Being courteous includes: being responsive to people, being on time for meetings, adhering to due dates, working effectively and efficiently with your team, and showing genuine empathy and compassion for others.
Listen twice as much as you speak – There is a reason why you only have one mouth and two ears. Invest the time to listen. Realize that you don’t have all the answers and that others’ contributions are not only useful, but important. Practice listening. Work hard at listening. Avoid distractions when you’re listening. Ask questions. Dig deeper. Show genuine interest in another person’s ideas.
Convey a thirst for knowledge – Never stop learning. Ask to be invited to other department meetings. Get down into the trenches and learn more about the work you oversee. Go to conferences. Take classes. Be a lifelong learner. The more you know, the more valuable you are.
Accept as many invitations as you can – Go to lunch with different people. Accept invitations to meetings, readouts, and informal gatherings. Attend social events. These things are important to the people who planned them. Show interest and applaud efforts.
Be a good employee – Don’t look for shortcuts that undermine peoples’ work. Don’t criticize. Don’t overreact to situations. Don’t make excuses. Don’t point fingers. Don’t take credit for something that’s not yours. Don’t treat people like they are a commodity.
Cultivate relationships – Both within and outside of your department, cultivating positive relationships will not only help you better understand the inner workings of the company, but will establish “go-to people” who can help with interdepartmental problems and issues.
Drive 1:1 conversations with your boss – Realize that you need to take responsibility for your career. Instead of waiting for your boss to establish goals, recommend training, or make introductions, take the initiative. Additionally, fully understand how you will be measured, the scope of the position and his/her expectations. If you want to be indispensable, it’s not their job to make you so.
Continue to build an effective network, both internally and externally – Never stop networking. Internally, develop your circle of trusted workers: people you can talk to, share information with, and brainstorm with. Take every opportunity to sell your personal brand. Showcase what you bring to the table and how you can help others. Finally, do your very best to avoid toxic employees. Every company has them. These are the people who are never satisfied and who believe their sole purpose is to complain about everything. Everyone knows who they are and you do not want to be associated with them.
Sometimes, you have no control over being laid off. At times, we’re all considered to be a “red shirt” or crewman number six. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do everything you can to be indispensable. You will still walk away with more knowledge, more networking contacts, more recommendations, and a much better understanding of yourself and your value. Watch the end of “Galaxy Quest.” Guy “Crewman Number Six” Fleegman became indispensable.