“Maturity is achieved when a person accepts life as full of tension.”

- Joshua Lieberman

Do you ever feel stuck? Trapped? Pushed into a corner? Caught between a rock and a hard place? (insert your favorite similar expression here)

Often, the reason that leaders feel this way is related to the attitude they find in some of their most valuable team members. In extreme contrast to that idea, we watched a video the other day with several groups of leaders about the culture of the San Antonio Spurs. They said, despite what most professional franchises experience, they will not be…

Held hostage by the talent.” 


Have you ever felt that way? I certainly have and have watched it play out over and over again in other companies. One of the things we’ve discovered is that there is a healthy tension necessary when it comes to employees. They need to understand two things:

  1. I am valuable, respected, and they need and want my contribution on the team.
  2. I am replaceable.

Before you react too strongly to that second idea, give me a little time to explain.

  • 1 without 2 - can result in a sense of entitlement and an unrealistic understanding of value
  • 2 without 1 - often results in a reluctant and under-appreciated employee, afraid to make decisions and lacking in motivation

It is holding those two ideas in tension that produces the best result for them and for their employer.

I worked for years as an investment manager over a large bond portfolio. I was very good at what I did. I was highly motivated to contribute and consistently bringing incremental value. However, I approached every counter-party relationship with the understanding that there were people smarter and better at what we were mutually doing and I always had something to learn. I knew…

  1.  I was valuable, respected, and they needed and wanted my contribution.
  2.  I was replaceable.

In a world where the size of one’s portfolio often correlated with the size of their ego, holding those two things in proper tension produced the best result for me and the bank.

One important caveat to holding this in proper tension: management must never hold the fact that someone is replaceable over their head. Things get out of balance when management makes someone feel like they are replaceable and not valuable.

A little hope. I have dealt with dozens of owners that thought they had irreplaceable employees.  In most cases, the employee was feeling the fear the employer was carrying. When this happens, the employer is actually contributing to the problem. If you are feeling trapped by the talent, stop.

In every case I can remember where this type of employee left…

  • The team got closer and stronger once they were gone
  • The cultural air cleared
  • A replacement is always found (often perceived to be better)

Affirm all your team members and make them feel valuable. Don’t let them hold you hostage.  Help them find the necessary balance to be a healthy contributing team member. Deal with the situation when they can’t seem to get there.


  • Do you have any employees that you feel are irreplaceable?
  • Do they know it?  Is there anything in the way they work that would confirm they feel this way?
  • How have you contributed to this problem?  What is it costing you in morale, anxiousness, etc.?
  • What do you need to do in order to establish a more proper tension?