Seth Godin uses linchpins as a metaphor for people who are indispensable. These people hold things together much as a physical linchpin holds together a mechanical system. But the metaphor works in a couple ways that I don’t believe the author intended.
First, linchpins are invisible. When was the last time you looked at a complex mechanical system and your eyes were immediately drawn to a linchpin? People who hold things together are often unsung heroes. They do such a good job that they don’t draw attention to themselves. People who prevent fires are harder to notice than people who put out fires.
Second, and more importantly, linchpins have to stay in place. Remove a linchpin and something comes apart. A human linchpin can never be promoted or work on new projects because they’re indispensable right where they are. Managers may show their appreciation for a linchpin, or they may react out of fear and resentment when they realize their dependence. They may even do a weird mixture of both.
Seth Godin’s Linchpin book was a fun read. I just wish he had picked something other than linchpins as his metaphor for people who are highly valued. And I wish he hadn’t used the word “indispensable.” Too often indispensable people are not highly valued.