My first real job was as a management consultant, and after that I worked at a number of big companies, and from both I inherited a clear, incorrect sense of how my professional life should evolve. It looked something like this:
- As you’re starting out, your job is to DO: folks give you assignments, and it’s your job to execute (“build this model;” “complete these benchmarking interviews”; “write this proposal”).
- Then eventually you become a “manager”: there are projects for you to run, and people for you to supervise, and you have to figure out how to do that well
- And finally you are anointed a “leader” (aka Partner, C-level exec, etc.) – you’re in charge and you decide things
What always felt mysterious was how one jumps from one step to the next. You could do a good job on stuff and eventually you’d be recognized and promoted (hopefully), but I knew that the cashflow models I was building as an entry-level consultant weren’t teaching me to sell projects, so how would I ever leap that chasm? Plus, it’s a terrible waiting game: at its best, you set a bunch of ambitious goals, work to exceed those goals, and hope someone notices you and gives you that big promotion and a step up the ladder. You’re out there checking off boxes, but you’re also waiting for someone to decide it’s OK for you to step forward and do the next thing.
This model is dead, ill-informed, outdated. The only real purpose it served was to allow the people in charge to feel in charge, and to make sure that great ideas didn’t come from most of the organization.
Here’s a different chart so simple that it forces you to look it (and yourself) straight in the eye:
Every day, no matter where you sit in the organization and what you’ve been asked to do, you’re in a position to initiate things. Ideas, seminars, journals, newsletters, blogs, new software projects, better sales pitches, partnerships that will change the game
When you initiate you come up with the idea and get it rolling. You don’t need permission, because if you create something great and someone loves it so much that they want to grab it from you, that’s fine – you’ve created something of value, and you can go on to the next thing.
Instead of worrying about getting credit and your job title, worry about leverage.
Stop waiting around. Stop asking for permission. Start things and ask to be stopped. Find people who will help, who can do some of the work, who can take some or all of the credit. And then do it again.