It’s a common misconception that the key to career success is to be central to the business; to take on as much responsibility as possible and hold on to it. After all, if you alone can perform a critical task, surely you are the company’s biggest asset?

This couldn’t be further from the truth. You don’t become an asset. You become the company’s largest bottleneck. This mindset is a problem both for the company and the individual.

There are many things you can do to be valuable to an organization (I’ve shared some tips on how to generate more value here), but equally, there are many ways that you can decrease your value.

If you are ambitious with your career, then you’re better off ensuring that you don’t become that bottleneck. Unless of course you are gifted with a skill so unique that no one else can learn it – but being truly honest to yourself, is that really the case?

I’ll use an example from a tech development team here, but the lesson is applicable for other areas, too.

Building the wrong culture

We once had a bottleneck in the tech team of one of our companies. In response to bugs in the code that were pushed to our live site, a senior member of our technology management team – let’s call him James – made himself the only person who could continue to push code live.

With good intention, James had made himself the bottleneck. Based on precedent, he didn’t trust other people to get it right. The flaw here was that James didn’t think of a way to fix the reasons behind overlooked mistakes. In trying to fix the symptoms, he made all code go through him before promoting it to the live website.

James was now the only link between a large group of engineers and our live site. Everything had to go through him. Now that the team didn’t have to think about deploying their work, the output of the team increased, but resulted in a large queue for James. As more work built up on a young system where it wasn’t easy to update the code, the pressure on him increased.

Whereas James was previously a hero, jumping in to save the day, he was now setting himself up for failure. As James became a larger bottleneck, the team’s output was held back. Trying to keep pace with the team, James eventually missed mistakes and shortly after, we had more bugs in the code than ever.

I am by no means perfect and have myself been a bottleneck to our companies on multiple occasions. Nevertheless, I strive to never be the bottleneck, unless I cannot avoid it. I highly encourage anyone to think in a similar way. Scaling rather than limiting your impact is the best way to provide value.

** I have previously shared a shorter version of this article on Forbes **

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