I worked in several startups, and in my last job we hired some new managers who quickly started replacing the old staff. They are also replacing experienced staff with former reports from their previous companies. So at this point they exercise as much power as they can in their function, and stop anybody who might have a different opinion. From one side, this is against our collaborative company culture, and is creating a bit of a toxic environment. But it's bad to replace them: "hey, Bob created a proper company function around himself, we didn't have any structure before, what do you mean we should let him go?"

From the other side, I have to admire their ability to entrench themselves: they amassed so much power that to remove them means losing a good chunk of productivity. And it's not the first time I see this: there are also bad performers who are being kept in the company, mainly because of their connections to customer accounts.

So, I wonder: is entrenching yourself the way to get promoted and have a successful career? Making yourself indespensable by not sharing information, not sharing contacts, not sharing responsibilities? I have seen advice against making yourself a bottleneck, but these senior managers seem to be doing well for themselves.

I see how successful all these managers are, and I need to understand if it's a standard behaviour. The only variable I can think of is company size. How does it work? Never be a bottleneck when you are a doer, then become am entrenched bottleneck when you move up?

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    If you work at a startup, and enjoy what you are doing, there may come a time when the company changes. If the company changes, and you don't enjoy your job anymore, it may be a good time to look for a job you enjoy.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Jun 9, 2018 at 22:32
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    It is a way to move up, it's certainly not the way. People who are good at their job should have no problem moving up without such tactics (at the right company). This read a bit too much like a rant. Commented Jun 9, 2018 at 23:03
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    There have been many similar questions to this on here and they always bring to mind the quote about grave yards being full of indispensible people. Commented Jun 10, 2018 at 2:15
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    If I see one of my reports trying this, I will terminate them before they can become "indispensable" (which no one truly is).
    – Mawg
    Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 8:57

2 Answers 2


This is not a startup issue alone. I've seen/experienced this at companies of all sizes (including mine that is an international consulting firm). Once an incompetent individual hoards up power, the individual will attempt to hold on to it. They typically do so by hiring other incompetent but, often, good show-horses who would act as "yes men" (or women perhaps) and promote a toxic work environment built upon nepotism and cronyism. I have personally experienced this fairly recently where a team was built up from scratch by a person in a powerful position, and he (in my opinion) has leveraged his authority to strengthen his hold over the immediate business area he is responsible for. He did so by hiring others who were aligned with (or simply did not oppose) his ideas - they were rewarded with promotions over the work horses who actually contributed towards the progress of the work impacting the clients. Often times, senior management would not have direct access/know-how of the performance of such work-horses. It is a person in power (such as one I'm describing) who ends up presenting them (in good or bad light, as he sees fit) to the upper management - and the rewards flow per this manipulator's desire.

Is this the way to the top - the answer isn't straightforward. Yes, if the upper management is gullible and just as incompetent, that it would continue to allow such individuals (by hiring them in the first place) to charter their selfish motives. And no, if the upper management is sharp and has good sense of foresight to see through shady characters.

Individually, my recommendation is to find the right opportunity and the moment to move on. Unless you have a trusted network of like-minded individuals who are willing to fight this through, you will waste your time and effort in such an environment.

In my experience, being irreplaceable does not equate to stagnation. There are a lot of companies and opportunities (depending on where in the world you're located) that will hire your talent (should you have one and hone it and become irreplaceable) - either you get an internal promotion or you get a promotion elsewhere.


There is a VERY old saying in business.


It has one of two consequences. You either stagnate, or, if you accumulate too much power and this is seen as being done deliberately, the company is going to find a way to cut you out of the loop and build alternate strategies to make your knowledge hoarding irrelevant.

Either way, you lose. It may have short-term payoffs, but in the long run, it hurts you. Most businesses these days employ the Hit by a bus strategy It's considered a VERY bad thing if there is only one person who knows what is going on.

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    Yes, most of my later jobs were like this, I had no chance of promotion because I was too valuable where I was. My only way upwards was leaving.
    – Kilisi
    Commented Jun 10, 2018 at 5:10
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    I have been in this situation a number of times during my career. I was deemed to valuable to move into even architectural roles because my technical expertise and product knowledge was so strong. I did get hired back at one place they wouldn't promote me due to technical skill some years later in a report-to-the-board type role. They found I was equally as valuable in that role, but if I hadn't have left and come back, I never would have been able to move away from where I was.
    – Jane S
    Commented Jun 10, 2018 at 5:49