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1-Page Leadership: A Career of Leadership Roles

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Lincoln Bleveans's picture
Executive Director -- Sustainability & Energy Management Stanford University

Global Energy, Water, and Sustainability Executive | Thought Leader, Speaker, and Writer | Strategy, Planning, Project Development, Operations, M&A, and Transformation | Team Builder...

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Everyone in an organization plays a role in that organization’s success and everyone starts their career in an organization somewhere, usually at or near the entry-level. That can be intensely frustrating to the young and ambitious … or the not-so-young and still ambitious.

Unfortunately, we are rarely promoted the moment we are (or at least think we are) ready to be. In the meantime, our organization — our boss, our colleagues, our customers, everyone — is counting on us to succeed at the job we currently have. And that promotion is based less on our potential in the next job than our success in the present one. (Show me someone who was promoted on perceived potential alone and I’ll show you a failure waiting to happen.)

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So, in Yoda’s immortal words, how do we avoid young Skywalker’s impasse? “All his life has he looked away … to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmmm? What he was doing.”

We do so by seeing and owning the leadership in every role, from individual contributor to subject matter expert to manager to executive. Prove your leadership — not just your expertise — in each role and you’ll position yourself to take on the next. And don’t confuse roles with titles: managing a project, for example, makes your role a manager even if your business card says “Part-Time Junior Newbie Intern.”

Those are the ground rules (and Yoda). Here are the four leadership roles:

Each role (again, not title but role) demonstrates leadership in different ways, consistent with the needs of the organization. For example, individual contributors are responsible for deliverables — not an obvious leadership opportunity at first blush. So start digging — and start owning. For example: instead of “this is what I found” or “this is the best I could do”, commit to leading yourself and others to the answer, however small a part it might play in the whole. That’s leadership. Instead of “I wish I knew what this was all about” or its sibling “why do they even need this?”, commit yourself to understanding the big picture and helping your colleagues understand it. That’s leadership. And so on.

In other words, how can I add the most value right here, right now? Up the ladder we go: SMEs might be responsible for inputs to a project that are an aggregation of deliverables. Managers take those inputs to create an outcome — a project, a product, a service — for the organization. And executives are responsible to the organization’s stakeholders for its results.

In each case, those who find and own the leadership opportunity in their role will be those who see their potential rewarded. Even if (cue Yoda voice) it a little longer takes than we want it to.

Now go! Lead! And let us all know how the view is from the top.

This article originally appeared at Medium.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 9, 2019

A very important reminder that you might not even realize you need to hear-- thanks for sharing your wisdom, Lincoln. I'll have Yoda's career advice in my ear for the rest of the week!

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