Influence

Having influence is your ability to impact how someone else behaves or believes. As we talked before in Do you want influence or control, we are influencing people all the time. In the context of the company or organization showing value for your influence it would, like other topics, involve their support of your influence and the furtherance of it by putting you in situations that will better enable you to influence others.

How does it show they value me, or don’t?

The organization increasing your ability to influence and intentionally putting you in situations to use your influence and impact how others in the organization think or act says that they believe in, and strongly value, what you bring to the table. They are encouraging you to further connect with people in the organization and impact them because they believe it will have a positive impact for the organization as a whole. Think about that, that is a pretty big vote of confidence. This level is even more powerful because it is again very visible to others where the value is being placed however it is more subtle. Think of the last time you were in a staff meeting or smaller team meeting. Typically whomever the formal leader is will facilitate the meeting but at some point in the meeting they often reach out to another person who attended, Tina did you have anything to add? John did I miss anything on that point? Suzanne I’d like you to take the lead on this next item. That leader is telling the group that this is a person I listen to and care what they think so you should too. It can happen in other, even more subtle ways too. If you’ve ever come home to have a kid tattle on a sibling right in front of your spouse you’ve probably done it yourself. The kid starts telling the story and you instinctively look at your spouse for a nod of confirmation or a raised eye brow indicating the story may have changed from it’s original form. The same thing can happen in the workplace too (and it doesn’t always have to be tattling). When a person is getting new information that they are unsure of, they look to a person they value to influence them in either confirmation or questioning of that information. Often this comes when a problem is brought to senior leadership, as the decision maker is listening to the problem they will instinctively look to the person they value to influence their reaction to the matter at hand. If this sounds new to you start paying attention in those interactions either when you are in the meeting, picking up your kids from daycare, or in a group of friends and I promise you’ll start to see it.

All influence isn’t created equal and Suzanne sharing information with her own team in the meeting is much different than a senior leader taking their queue on how to react to a problem based on another’s reaction in the meeting. What that tells us is that there are a few sub categories within influence that make up their own little mini hierarchy. Starting from the base, you have influencing people with lower titles, next influencing your peers, and finally influencing those above you in title or status. All three of these are a great place to be in the eyes of the company and all exhibit the vote of confidence I spoke to above.

Influencing people below you could look like acting as a mentor to new team members, leading an explanation of a process to those with less tenure, or being the “go-to” when their questions come up. The organization, or your manager specifically, trusts that you will lead the newer employees or those who may look up to you down the right path. They value the impact you’ll have on these people’s career and long term vision. They also are confident that you’ll be able to lead other’s by following their leadership and example.

Influencing your peers can look like heading the team when your manager is unavailable, sharing grass roots communication on change in support of leadership’s decision, and being the “go-to” for their questions. This layer of the influence level tends to be more subtle than the first. It comes about organically where your peers look to you for guidance. Your manager looks to you support their leadership and the team, while pushing the team forward.

Influencing those above you often looks like being invited to join those of a higher status (could be leadership or simply the more tenured and senior status people in the organization) while they are making decisions, being asked to propose a solution to one of the problems facing the higher ups, and being the “go-to” for their questions. If you’re answering side questions and seem to be invited to meetings where you’re the lowest person on the totem pole, this is a great sign. Your organization trusts you to not only carry forward the message of the strategy and goals of the company but to help create some of those goals and develop the strategy itself.

This is the top of the pyramid so there isn’t a lot to add in how this might show that they don’t value you. The one aspect I would caution on is faux influence. If the organization feels an obligation to have you lead and as a result they put you in positions to and encourage you to influence others in infrequent situations. Beware of someone “throwing you a bone” if you’ve been in a position that should already require influence, leadership, and ability to manage. My suggestion if you’re in this place is over prepare, deliver well, and then over communicate your success. If they don’t value your ability to influence well and you believe you can do it, show them.

If this is the level I’m in, what now?

I am going to again start with, how did I get here? Being considered an influencer within the organization is no small feat. Your organization putting you in positions to influence others, regardless of what level those other people are in, is a compliment to you and your abilities as well as acknowledgement of how valuable you are to the success of the goals. So it didn’t just happen over night and it didn’t happen because of any formal change. Similar to autonomy, you could have accidentally influenced people slowly and therefor, again slowly, got noticed for doing so and were then included in more and more. More likely in this level however, you shared what you were able to accomplish through others. You mentioned to your manager that you were helping out with the new person and taught them the best way to organize their work. You spoke for the team after several members confided in you the fears they had over an upcoming change. You answered the question brought up by leadership when no one else seemed to have a solution. This level is all about communication and your ability to do so will often help you advance through each of the layers more quickly.

This is an elite group as certainly the least amount of people arrive at this level. Your determination to serve the organization and the people within it is paying off. Use this platform to build connections and relationships and never stop learning. These sound like separate calls to action but they are really one in the same. As you navigate your position of influence you will undoubtedly come to a point where your own knowledge will run out. For some of us this happens quicker than for others but it does happen to all eventually. So then what? This is when you peek because you don’t know it all? No, you’ll need the expertise of others to carry you through. As you’re put into these positions of influence build your network and strengthen your relationships with others. You can pair your strengths to propel you both forward. Lets use an example, a group of your teammates is in the breakroom getting a cup of coffee together. A few of them start venting that the new system is so much more clunky than the old one. You yourself didn’t notice but they do a little different work. Ask yourself who the most reliable and level headed person (or people) is in the group and ask more questions. You can mirror this information against the goals of the system and share problems and solutions with your manager. Being that you’re typically the “go-to” for questions and because you provided possible solutions, your manager is likely to take you seriously and push this forward and implement some sort of solution to it and make the work more efficient. Now, you were the conduit but you didn’t even realize there was a problem so you certainly didn’t solve this on your own. It was a collective effort. Go back to the person (or people) who were they most helpful and share how they impacted the success. Expressing gratitude and giving credit is a great way to build those connections so you can continue to improve things as well as learn yourself.

Finally as you’re standing at the top of your Value Hierarchy mountain do take a moment to appreciate the view but don’t stop there. All of the relationship building and learning you’re doing up there need to ultimately bring you to lend a hand to your fellow climbers. Reach out to the next one in line and allow yourself to be influenced by those around you. Increase their level in the pyramid so they’re better able to join you at the top and you can take in the view together.

Things I’m reminding myself of

Friendly reminder (and it almost feels like a PSA at this point), you do not need to be in a leadership position to be valued to the point of influence. I have watched people in positions where they had very nearly the lowest title in the organization and been valued to this point. In contrast, I have seen people with the highest title overseeing hundreds of staff members that barely made it to the status level let alone encouraged and empowered to truly influence and lead their group. Consider what you’re asked to do and how, in the role you’re in, to understand if you’re here (or any level in the hierarchy).

Influencing people all but requires a servant leadership mindset. Too often we strive to make it to the level of influencing people by bossing. That is a way to influence people, though it will often be in the opposite direction of what you wanted and the odds that your company will value your abilities here will be short lived at best. If you’re wanting to get to a point of value from the organization where you’re being asked, encouraged, and trusted to influence come at it from a place of serving them. How can you help or teach or support others? This is the way to gaining that trust and value from not only the organization but those who are following you too.

Autonomy

Being autonomous means that you’re making decisions for yourself. Everyone should have some amount of autonomy in their work, free from micromanagement, so I’d like us to think of the definition one step further. The definition that I gravitate toward is, the capacity to act in accordance with objective morality rather than being influenced. If your organization is trusting you to make decisions and believes you have the capacity to act in accordance with this high level of authority, they are giving you true autonomy in your work.

How does it show they value me, or don’t?

A person who is trusted to act autonomously in their work is truly valued by the organization. The company trusts that the person shares the values and understands the vision. This as well as being able to further the organizational strategy with decisions that they make. Because of this trust the company is able to empower the individual to further the message and be alert for if things would go off point.

For example your organization asks you to take part in an employee wellness committee that will organize activities and cultural goals around wellness as well as incentives for those who participate. They are excited to have you as a part of the committee and ask for monthly updates on the group’s progress. That was two sentences right. In those two sentences you were asked to participate, given the direction of how it should work, and encouraged in the endeavor. They are expecting you to take the topic of wellness (or any other initiative that they may ask you to partake in) and mirror it against the organizational values, mission, and strategy and they are confident you’ll get it right. The organization is showing just how much they trust and value you in this moment. They value your ability to connect those things, willingness to take on this, no doubt extra, work, and trust that you’ll bring up any concerns or disconnections in the monthly check-ins.

Let’s use another example, you’re asked to take over an assignment that your boss would typically handle. Maybe that assignment is paperwork, maybe it is attending a meeting, maybe it is overseeing other fellow employees or some of their tasks. This is a similar expectation of what you’re able to accomplish autonomously. Your boss trusts you to understand and account for the team goals, make decisions similarly to how they would make them, and understand at what threshold or level of concern you should bring them back in. Last week we discussed this as a potential down fall to development. Your boss potentially uses you as a dumping ground for the work they don’t want to do under the guise of developing you. Take the time to dissect and reflect on the situation to understand the true intention and result of the request. There are many times where development turns into working autonomously on the less glamourous side of the next step of your career. This is to determine if you’re ready and willing to put in the grunt work that next step will require.

Finally remember that we’re nearly to the peek of our hierarchy. The only space above autonomy is influence. While you may have the ability to influence well before your organization is valuing you to the point of putting you in positions to influence others; think of this as the final step before you influence. This is the step where you’re able to make decisions independently without the influence of others. To take it one step further, you’re in a place where you can decide whether or not you allow yourself to be influenced by others. You will be put into situations where others will attempt to influence you, but you will prevail in making objective moral decisions.

I do want to dissect and clarify that a little bit. I am not trying to say that the amount your organization values you dictates your ability to make sound decisions or think objectively or identify and be conscious of influencers. This isn’t as much about you and your abilities or skills as it is about the level of trust in you, and therefore the autonomy given to you, and the amount the organization empowers you to utilize those skills. Think of it this way, let’s go back to high school and pretend you had a great sense of humor and were a pretty sweet dancer. You are cultivating these abilities at home with your family and turning into skills. By the time you’re 14 you’re not too shabby but you’re a Freshman so no one is inviting you to the party. Two years later you are maybe even a little funnier and have mastered whatever was the must do dance of your high school career. You’re invited to the party, but quickly learn this is a Senior’s world and drawing the crowd to you won’t really be tolerated. You are smart enough to know you have something great to offer and a few other’s are catching on too. You get to choose if you gravitate to (and are associated with) the bully, jock, class clown, etc based on where you want to be and what’s important to you. If the one you chose starts doing something you don’t agree with, you can change course and either find a new group or leave all together. Your abilities didn’t change in the two years though they have maybe improved with practice. What changed was the organization (in this case the social structure of high school) allowing you the opportunity to utilize them. They placed more value on you and what you bring to the table to in a sense invite you to it. Now you have the added ability to decide who else, and what other goals and roles you want to associate or align yourself with.

If this is the level I’m in, what now?

Let’s actually start with, how did I get here? This sort of autonomy grows over time and while I’m not talking about completing your work without being micromanaged, it does often start there. First, you typically need to show you’re making the decisions that align with the organizational goals and values already. This can be done accidentally over time by simply making the right decision when given the opportunity and eventually someone will notice. This is probably how I’ve seen this done most commonly, but it is slow. If you’re aware of your intent and you were trying to make progress in this area, likely you drew the line from the decisions you made, the actions you took, etc to how they supported the organizational strategy and values. For example if you spent a little extra time and care with a customer, when you get the opportunity casually bring up the interaction with your boss and explain you were working toward making the customer a top priority. Subtly linking your daily actions with the company objectives with advance the ball much quicker here. Whether you did it intentionally or accidentally your team, leaders, and others began noticing your commitment to driving the mission forward and that transitioned into specific asks for your involvement in more of the same.

So congratulations on getting here! I will honestly say that not everyone does and not everyone even cares to. It takes time, commitment, and work on your part to build this level of value with the organization. This is a great place to be and will open doors within the organization as you continue to show your ability to think strategically about the business you’re in and how to further the big picture. It also increases your value independent of the organization as well. You are being given opportunities to understand and advance strategic goals with feedback on how to improve that ability. This is an incredibly valuable skill and will help you in multiple areas of life.

Things I’m reminding myself of

This stage is stand alone and often quiet and reflective. It does not require you to site your opinion or wager advice on any and all things. The organization and leadership within it very often will not have you jump right from developing to influencing others. They need the margin of autonomy to see how the development is playing out. This is something I have needed reminding of in the past and likely will again in the future. Many of us have a tendency to learn something and decide we are now the expert so we should obviously share it with everyone and tell them exactly how they should act, think, and be. Obviously. If you get to a point of true autonomy enjoy the expectation for what it is a chance to be introspective, objective, and hold a high level of moral standards.

Development

Development is the middle of the hierarchy. Compensation and Status lead up to it and autonomy and influence can follow for those who’s organization puts a great deal of value in them. As I’ve noted in prior posts, development can be found in any place and in any form, however for this context how a company or organization shows an individual how much they value them, is more formalized. For the purpose of this discussion development is the formal opportunities that the organization gives a person to help build their skills.

How does it show they value me, or don’t?

A development opportunity for an organization is an investment in you. It can be expensive and is often at least a little bit risky for the company because they are essentially making you more marketable and often times footing the bill. Development is a an opportunity to learn and show your abilities and emerging skills. While I realize that I did say for this conversation we’re using a more concrete definition of development, keep in mind that it still doesn’t need to be a class or an off sight retreat. Concrete development could come in the form of a request to have you assist with a task (building a report, taking a call, attending a meeting, etc) that typically a more senior member of the team would be responsible for.

Not every organization focuses on developing their staff and those that do don’t develop all people equally. If the organization doesn’t work to develop their people and hold this as a strong value they are setting themselves up for a very expensive model that won’t be sustainable. They will always need to hire from the outside for higher level roles and people who are finding their own means of development will go elsewhere for better opportunities. The companies that do emphasize development of their people and do so selectively as appropriate for each employee, are much healthier. When I say they develop selectively I don’t mean that they only offer it to some. I mean that they are intentional around what employees have potential in and are showing aptitude in which areas. If you are getting offers to increase your skill set in any area, they are showing the value they have in you.

Just as the organization shows value in specific people they also show value to specific traits or skills each person possesses. Again this doesn’t sound overly nice but this is a business, even if in the public sector, so they need to invest in where they see potential and where it matches an organizational need. For example, if you have skills in all aspects of communication and a real passion for presenting in front of groups but the skill that is needed is well crafted presentations that someone else will deliver, likely you’ll be driven to develop in creation rather than the actual presenting. This can be a great opportunity to dial in your skills or stretch into something completely new.

In some instances what started as development can turn into a dumping ground. For example, your manager has a weekly meeting and asks you to attend this week in their place and take notes. (Great exposure, status, and development opportunity!) Which turns into you becoming their personal secretary so they no longer need to attend said meeting because you provide such impeccable notes (dumping ground). First and foremost, have a conversation with your manager about what value this is adding to the organization and to your development. Ask if there is something specific they would like you to be getting from the meetings. If it doesn’t fit into the your schedule perhaps propose there be a round robin for the team of who attends. If this is you I would challenge you to truly understand the why behind your frustration. Then, if you are truly fed up with it and a direct yet respectful conversation isn’t resolving it, this is where the risk to the organization comes in. Consider what you’re learning in the meeting (or whatever your example is) and how you can apply it to your work, the work other leaders in the meeting are doing, and work outside the company. You have the investment of the development you’re getting, you have increased exposure, and you have the ability to take this skill or understanding wherever you might decide to go and grow.

If this is the level I’m in, what now?

Consider in what ways you’re currently being developed. Are you being asked to brush up on some general skills that you need for your daily work? For example take an Excel course, go to a seminar in your field, or create draft communications? Are you being asked to stretch your abilities into an area you hadn’t previously been involved in. Perhaps you were asked to join a committee, or test a new software. Both are indications that the organization values you as a contributor and what you can bring to those areas. At this stage I recommend that you focus on gratitude and plan to get the most out of it.

Approach each opportunity with gratitude. Too often when an organization offers someone a conference or a seminar or even to attend a webinar we look at it as, oh what’s wrong that I need to improve on. That isn’t what they are telling you. So take it as the compliment that it is. They are telling you that they see a seedling in you in that area that they want to water and watch it grow.

Make the absolute most of the opportunity you’re given. If you’re attending a workshop do the work while you’re there and take notes. When it is complete come back to the day to day and apply what you’re able and share with others what you think they might be able to make use of. When your manager asks you how the workshop (or insert any number of development opportunities here) went, share how you’re applying and implementing what you learned. Then sprinkle in some of the topics that are lofty or seem far off. This shows your appreciation for the opportunity and how their investment is already paying off. This part can be a little self serving too. You absolutely want to apply anything you can to help you be successful in your role and help the team and organization thrive. However, keep in mind that these are also resume boosters for you! Applying what you learned from a seminar and crushing the stretch opportunities that you’re given on the job will only enhance what you’re able to sell to others should you need to move on to another position or company.

Things I’m reminding myself of

Each area that you develop in is for you. Development opportunities can look like these shiny new objects and make us jealous. It can feel like a competition with fellow employees. He was selected to attend that conference, and she gets to work on that project, and all I got was this. It’s silly how our minds work sometimes. Keeping in mind how each opportunity you get is working for your good in the end will help you manage that desire to compare.

Be open but intentional around your development. Don’t close yourself off to new opportunities because it isn’t what you originally expected to get. Sometimes we’re a little blind to our talents so taking on the new opportunities can help lend some color to areas we weren’t even acknowledging. That being said, if you know the area you want to grow in, intentionally seek out, ask about, or find a way to tailor the opportunities toward it. For example if you’re assigned to help with a communication committee when you really wanted to lean into your analytical side, offer to compile and review the data around how people are getting and prefer to get their information today. If you start with gratitude and an open mind there is no telling how far you can take it.

Status

Status within an organization is essentially how ‘important’ you appear to be within the group. Your status is increased most frequently through title changes. For example, going from a Service Representative I to a Service Representative II or from a Junior Associate to an Associate to a Senior Associate. Usually these changes are accompanied by a change in compensation and sometimes they include a change in responsibility or expectations. I’ll use title and status somewhat interchangeably here. You can’t have a title change without at least some change in status but you can have a status change without a difference in title. Status is the part that matters but it is often shown formally through the title change.

How does it show they value me, or don’t?

An increase in status very often is a recognition of a mastery of skill. While the expectations of the work being performed may not change the organization is making a more formal and visible decision to allow you more independence as a result of your mastery. It may also include some form of mentoring or teaching other, more junior level, people than yourself. For example, as a Service Representative I you may need to bring any customer complaints about the widgets being sold to leadership, because they require coaching. A Service Representative II may be expected to handle those complaints independently, because they are expected to have mastered this skill. A Service Representative III may be included as part of the leadership group that provides the coaching on these complaints, because they are expected to have not only mastered the skill but be able to teach it. All makes sense right, but now think about it from the company’s perspective. The organization is assigning limited value to the Service Rep I, as they are completing the work (obviously still valuable in and of itself) but each piece needs to be reviewed and signed off on (limits the value they can add). There is greater value assigned to the next level because they can work independently and don’t require additional time from leadership. The Service Rep III is providing the most value because it is not only independent but can provide lift for the leadership group to work on other priorities.

A title change, or other forms of status change are the first form of showing value that is visible to the others within the group. Typically, no one knows what another person is earning as far as wages so when your status is increased within the group it tells everyone that the organization sees something in you.

A title change might be the first time the value shown to you is visible, it is also the fist stage where you start to see glimmers of the levels to come. For example, if you gain status (even if in your existing role and without a title change) you are likely to come up in conversation in higher levels for the efforts you’ve put forth and the goals you’ve achieved. This is might get you invited to meetings, events, and gatherings for “exposure.” While being seen with other high performing people in an organization is showing their value in you as is, it also opens the door to development (by learning from all those big brains) and in time, influence (by getting to share your big brain with them). It all starts with someone seeing an increase in your value and offering you more status.

This may have sounded elite so let’s give it an example using our Jr. Associate, Associate, and Sr. Associate from the definition. Let’s say that every Friday all of the Sr. Associates get together for coffee and to identify and problem solve any widget making problems in the past week. You, a Jr. Associate, identified an issue earlier in the week and reported it to your manager. Your manager is impressed by your ability to identify the issue and understand the root cause. She asks you to join the coffee time with the Sr’s to explain what you found. Meanwhile, another team member, Steve, was recently promoted to Sr Associate and this Friday will be his first coffee time too. In this example Steve has the most simplistic change in status, he was promoted therefore he will be invited to any meeting or social gathering that that level is invited to. You, however, simply had a status change with your manager. She saw potential in you and gave you an opportunity for exposure. That opportunity, if used correctly, could increase your status with the team and build rapport while also allowing you to learn from how the Sr’s work in that meeting. Because Steve will continue on in the meetings, he will have the opportunity to continue to do all of that and potentially get to the point that he’s influencing the group.

Status, particularly if denoted by a title, can be a double edged sword. It is certainly something that you want to be aware of and cognizant of where it falls in the hierarchy. Some people will completely discount their status within a team, department, or organization because they don’t see the value the company is placing in them at that stage and the potential of what it could grow into. Others, put too much emphasis here. Keep in mind we’re still at the pretty basic level of the pyramid, one up from the bottom, and there is room for growth beyond this level.

If this is the level I’m in, what now?

Hopefully many of you read this far and either confirmed or realized that your status within the organization is a component of the value you’re seeing from your organization. If this is you, keep building on those objective indications of the value the company is showing you. Be grateful for the status you have within the team and look for opportunities to develop and influence.

Potentially you read this far and thought yep I can see how this works for Johnny and Betty but I just don’t seem to have any status, or very limited. If this sounds more like you, take heart, while it might not be easy, there is a simple solution. You need to investigate what that next status change would look like and then lean into that, hard.

Investigating what that next status change is may look different based on size and industry of an organization. For example, if you’re in a large organization you may have access to job descriptions or development guides that can list out in black and white what those expectations, qualities, or competencies are to master your current role and look to the next step. If you don’t have access to this material (or perhaps it doesn’t exist) start looking for instances of the Johnny’s and Betty’s of the world having a higher status. Are there different expectations for those with more experience in the role? What are they? Is there someone that officially or unofficially checks all of the work like the Service Reps we talked about? What is that person looking for when they do it? Is there someone who everyone listens to in the meetings? Or looks to for guidance? What are they saying? What do they use as guiding principles in their comments?

Then, you can simply talk to your leader about it. Once you’ve picked up a few tips either from documentation the company provides or from paying attention while doing the work, you can start to ask your boss about it. ‘I’ve noticed that Betty seems to be responsible for X. Is that something I could learn more about and help with?’ ‘I saw in the job descriptions for the Sr’s they’re expected to Y. How can I learn more about that?’ ‘Are there any gaps you see in my work that I could focus on that would help me move toward Z?’ Questions like these show your leader that you’re looking for the next step, you’ve already started doing some of the work, and allows them the opportunity to clear up any misconceptions (For example if Betty isn’t responsible for X and it drives your manager a nuts that she’s doing it, you’ll see that too.) . Once you have the conversation, write down every thing they say. If you’re not able to discuss this with anyone simply make your own list based on what you have seen and determined.

Leaning in to the information that you’re given looks like actually doing the things. (Like I said, simple but maybe not easy) First things first, if you did discuss with your manager and they say that you have gaps for your current role, fills those first. Remember back to the beginning, you need to show that you have mastered the role first. Once that is done, take the original list you created from your discussion and split it in two.

The first list is prioritized based on importance. If the first thing leadership looks for in signing off on your work is the correct contract language and it’s an automatic fail if it’s wrong, you learn as much as you can and work as hard as you can to get that right.

The second is prioritized based on ease of completing. If leadership is also looking for grammatically correct information and has 0 tolerance for spelling errors, you turn on spell check and start proof reading. This is low hanging fruit and something that can be improved today. Then, because you can’t do everything, pick something from each list and do it hard. Make great strides in those two things and move the needle forward.

Finally, follow up with your leader. Let them know that you’ve been working on X,Y, and Z. Tell them what you’re focused on and how/what you’re doing in those areas. Because you chose something of great importance and something that is easy you’ll be able to showcase a quick win as well as your plans for improvement/growth long term. Discussing it with them will help you continue to prioritize the right items and communicate the work you’re doing this will increase your status with them and increase the value they place on you.

Things I’m reminding myself of

Work with your leaders and not against them. Even if you don’t like, or maybe it goes so far as to not respect, those in the levels above you, you can learn a lot from them. You can learn how to get to the next level, how the ideals of the leader department or organization mirror yours (or don’t), and so much more. All of this is valuable information that you want to have as soon as you’re able so don’t avoid the conversations.

Be objective and realistic in your recognition of and pursuit of status. There are two unbecoming ends of the spectrum. There are those who seem to think a title is the top of the hierarchy and those who never realize the status they hold within their group or organization. I hope to never be the one who gets a new title and is suddenly too big for my britches because of it. I also don’t want to down play where I am and lack confidence in the status I hold. This is a tough balance to strike that I fail at consistently however, keeping an objective eye out for the evidence of my status (similar to what I listed as examples above) is the only way to maintain that balance.

Compensation

Compensation can be looked at a few different ways. It is first and foremost your salary or hourly rate but it could also include your benefit package, profit sharing, bonuses, etc. It is often one of the first things you look at when you research or apply for a new job and the first thing people assume you want when your organization is showing that it values you. The funny thing is it is really just a base line.

How does it show they value me, or don’t?

If you took psych 101 somewhere along the way you likely learned about a man named Maslow. Back in the 1940s Maslow created a hierarchy of needs ranging from physical needs such as food and shelter at the bottom, followed by security, belonging, and esteem. It ends with self-actualization, needs that centered around achieving your highest potential, at the very tip of the pyramid. Just like in any hierarchy, you needed to fully achieve the base level and move yourself upward from there. For example, Maslow believed you can never get to concerns of security if you are still working on fulfilling your physical needs. Compensation is typically how we meet that base level. We need enough money to be able to buy what will satisfy our physical needs. We’re not able to meet that first level without some form of compensation. When you consider the security of health insurance or other benefits, we’re often not able to meet that second level without some form of compensation either.

I know what you’re thinking, surely this goes beyond the base level. I don’t want just enough money to have food, shelter, and the ability to see a doctor. I do use my compensation for other, more fun, things. I am sure you do, we all do. As we grow into adulthood we develop a standard of living. It includes our basic needs as well as other things that are important to us such as going to dinner, having a certain standard of car in the driveway, or traveling. We also plan for the future, saving for things like retirement or potential emergencies. While this clearly goes beyond a physical need, all of this becomes part of what the emotional side of us rolls into what we need‘ to cover with our compensation so we attribute it to being the baseline.

In order to feel that a company values our contributions we expect them to at a minimum meet our ability to continue those baseline ‘needs‘ through compensation. Most often, we wouldn’t even take a job if it didn’t meet that standard. In your current role, if your boss told you frequently what an asset you were to the company, provided you with glowing reviews and recommendations but didn’t pay you enough to meet the base line, you surely wouldn’t think the company valued their employees.

From the organizational standpoint, you could think of it as the foundation upon which the rest of the ways a company shows value are built. For example, when you first come into a new organization or a new position you are likely not adding a lot to the role right off the bat. The company is taking a chance and saying, we believe you to have value and that you will add value to our group, for that, we’re willing to pay. Before you do anything of value they are telling you that you are valued.

Compensation can also become a last resort of sorts when people aren’t feeling appreciated and valued within an organization. I have seen a number of people over the years lose influence and opportunities. They get frustrated and feel beaten down for months to even years some times. Inevitably they end up saying something like, “I don’t care what they ask me to do, just don’t take my salary.” To get to this point, this person has already quit their organization, they just haven’t left yet. If they get to a point that their compensation is cut either through demotion, no raise at review time, or changing expectations/responsibility in the same role, they often leave very soon after. The interesting thing is, they usually don’t get more money when they leave. They might take a lateral position with another company, pursue a completely different role/industry, or they may even knowingly take a step backward for a fresh start. This is very often because it was never about the money in the first place. These people felt undervalued and diminished for months if not years losing, or simply not making traction in getting, what would make them feel valued. Finally, that foundation we talked about was broken when compensation was affected.

If this is the level I’m in, what now?

The above likely resonated with many people, hopefully in the sense that the organization had faith in the value you would bring therefore paying based off that expectation. If that is the level you’re on and the reason you’re there, great. Keep raising the bar for yourself and the group and you’ll move to experiencing value in terms of status and title in no time.

If you’re returning to the foundational level you may notice yourself saying things like:
As long as they don’t take away my pay check. or It’s just a job. or I’ll do whatever and call me what you want just don’t change my salary.

If that is the case, I would do a little soul searching to determine if this is the right fit for you. You could have outgrown the company, the role may have changed and is no longer a good fit for you, there could have been a change in leadership somewhere that impacted you, or about a thousand other reasons. At the end of the day it doesn’t really matter. If the only value the company is showing you (or you’re perceiving) is a paycheck, that is not enough.

I would suggest two things, making objective lists and becoming an active participant.
List out all of the ways people within the organization showed you that you were valued. (hint the first one can be that they paid you this week) It could include that your manager is giving you clear feedback on areas to improve, you were asked what type of work you would prefer to work on, someone thanked you for your contribution. List everything you can think of. Then list the one thing that was the biggest reason you haven’t felt valued. You won’t need a whole exhaustive list for this one. Once that is done reread your list and assess how you feel. Once all of the objective points of value are listed out on the sheet are staring you in the face do you feel reassured in your position or does the one thing on the other side of the page, with all of its dread, anger, and frustration outweigh anything you could write down?
Plan for a potential job change based on this list and the emotion you’re having. For example, if once you looked at in black and white you felt more comfortable maybe you do nothing, or peruse job sites once every couple weeks to see what is out there. If you are a little more impassioned maybe you look more frequently and let a few of your connections know you’re open to new opportunities. If writing this out made you even more angry and fed up, you might update your resume and LinkedIn account, have relevant job postings delivered to you, and set up coffee dates with people who might be able to point you in the right direction.

I include emotion as a deciding factor in this, because it matters. What doesn’t matter is how your mom or spouse or co-workers feel about the circumstances. If I looked at your list and said, you’re fine stop expecting so much, that wouldn’t do anything to make you feel more valued. Conversely, if I read it and thought good grief run out of there as fast as you can, but you felt more comfortable who am I to tell you otherwise and try to motivate you in another direction? You spend far to much time at work to not enjoy it so while there are rough patches in every relationship (yes your job is a relationship) you need to decide how you feel, based on objective evidence, and act accordingly.

Things I’m reminding myself of

Money isn’t everything but it is important. There isn’t much you can do in this life that doesn’t cost something. We need it to survive in some respects and want it to be more comfortable in others. Keep in mind though, it is just the beginning.

Never run from something, always run toward something else. You might notice that I never said ‘leave’ above when describing how to plan a potential exit from the organization. It isn’t about leaving the work you’re doing or leaving the atmosphere you’re doing it in. It is about finding a position that allows you to do that work in a new atmosphere. It is finding a new way to use your skills and talents. You may know you only started planning an exit because of the situation you were in but when you find the right role at the right organization, you’ll be empowered knowing you didn’t ‘escape’ the prior environment you had to leave it behind to get to the next step.

The Value Hierarchy

Have you ever been in a position at work where you thought to yourself, what am I even doing here? No one seems to care what I think or what I’m contributing. No one seems to notice anything that I do unless there is a ball that I have dropped. No one is sharing all of the information with me therefor I can’t possibly make the right decisions. I am called out for the smallest of missteps while others are given the benefit of the doubt. I could probably just walk out the front door and no one would even notice it happened until all of the work I have done would come to a screeching halt. Yeah one of those types of jobs where you feel like your manager is either micromanaging you or ignoring you all together (some times they seem to have the uncanny ability to do both). Have you ever felt that?

While I’m sure many have experienced this exact thing there are others who don’t know it yet. For you I’ll explain, it is frustrating and demoralizing. You find yourself noticing every transgression and highlighting every slight from those above you. You question the structure, is this just my manager or is this the way the organization is run? You’re sure that not all of this can be real, some of it must be you being too sensitive or exaggerating it. This is of little comfort because it really just adds your mental instability to the mix. It hurts and it is exhausting. If you’re like me and have too much passion within you for making a difference, you can’t just let that slide. Falling into cynicism isn’t an option for you.

When I have experienced this it has been suffocating. This is partially because I invest so much into work, if I am not feeling like the investment is mutual it is really difficult for me to live with that. For me, the most difficult thing was that I was no longer allowed in the room. I had always been encouraged to be part of the meeting, ask questions, make comments, influence decisions, be a part of the process and the strategy. Then there was sudden change in the organization and when things change people hold tight to what they can control. That meant that certain people needed to hold onto what they had dominion over and what the narrative would be. For that reason I started losing my invitation, when I was in the meeting I was told to only listen or was talked over, I was no longer asked for my thoughts on the strategy. I started getting increasingly frustrated and disheartened with the culture and to be honest I started spiraling a little.

In what I thought was an effort to improve the situation, which was really a disguised effort to find a new place in the organization, I started grasping at straws. Over the course of about six months, I proposed a new initiative and suggested partnering with someone who was very respected to champion and guide while I could take the lead to actually drive it. No. I requested to be part of a group being formed to improve overall communication. No. I asked to go to classes and take webinars. No. I gave some feedback on the trajectory of the department strategy. I was told to focus on my individual work. I updated my manager of some things my team was working on. I was told to run team initiatives by him first for approval. (Like I said, frustrating, demoralizing, and suffocating.) I was told I was doing well but needed to stay in my lane.

I got to a point that I thought I’d never get to; I asked for more money. Now, I’m a pragmatic, organized, logical person. I did not just march into someone’s office and demand money because I was getting a “no” everywhere else. After discussions, research, and understanding that predated all of the “what am I doing here” thoughts, I had a firm case to request a raise. I had taken on added responsibility with my position and done well with it for about a year. I had objective proof that my leadership of the group was improving the unit and the department as a whole. The thing was I’d been so fulfilled by the work previously that I didn’t need it or even want money for it. The fact that I asked for money may have seemed completely logical for another person in my shoes but for me it was very telling of my mental state in that job. I had personally gotten to the point that I was looking to money to motivate me.

Once I put it together that I was only asking for money because I wasn’t feeling valued in any other capacity I wanted to get to the root of it. What would make me feel valued? If asking for a bigger paycheck (justified as it may be) felt like rock bottom, what was I missing that I had before that kept me above this place? I started listing things out, reading books, and asking others.

What makes you feel like a valued part of the organization?

I came up with a hierarchy of sorts (picture the food pyramid) to help me better understand where I was at and why. At the bottom was the absolute lowest level of how a company shows they value you as an employee, they pay you. Just up from pay is your title and status. Smack dab in the middle you have development. Just above that is true autonomy. Finally you have influence at the top which can be broken into three parts, influencing down to the team, across your peers, and finally up to those above you in the organization.

Figuring out this hierarchy was so liberating for me. I wanted to share it with everyone once I saw how much understanding where I was personally helped me to take back control over my career and my feeling of worth in the organization. Over the coming weeks we’ll dive deeper into each of these levels of the hierarchy starting from the bottom. We’ll cover what it looks like to feel valued or not at each level and how you can impact your situation in each level.

Where Will I be in 5 Years?

In every job interview and in every performance appraisal I have been asked one question consistently. There is some variation of it but by and large it is the same. Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years. I can remember back to when I was trying for a promotion that, at the time, I thought would allow for my husband to stay home with our kids (apparently I hadn’t fully vetted that plan with all involved parties because it didn’t come to fruition). This goal of having a lifestyle change put a lot of pressure on the interview. I researched and asked questions. I learned about the differences in the new role that I would need to stretch into. I learned about who the interviewer might be, my goal was to think like them and answer things the way they would. The only problem was when I came into the interview there were three interviewers and all were men. I had never had an interview with that many men before and I was instantly worried I wouldn’t be able to relate to them. So naturally the right answer is to go in full on stereotype mode (the decisions we make under stress are just ridiculous). I was quicker to answer questions so I wouldn’t appear indecisive or unable to respond. I portrayed myself as being even more blunt than I am during the “How would you handle xyz situation.” questions. I overestimated my negotiation skills. I modeled their body language back at them and even went so far as to make my laugh sound more like theirs when they made jokes. I had the right intentions but it was a bit much.

Near the end of the interview one of them asked the where do you see yourself question. The only problem was that they once again threw me off. The interviewer didn’t use a 5 or 10 year timeline. He asked where I wanted to be in 2-3 years. Immediately following my thought of, this is a really silly way to ask the question, my second reaction was a little panicked around how to answer. If I say still in this role do I sound lazy? If I say I see myself in anything other than this role in 2 years do I sound like a flake or unrealistic? The truth is I did see myself in that role in 2-3 years but not a whole lot longer than that. In an effort to still play to their perceived styles but be a bit more true to myself, I settled on something to the effect of, “In 2-3 years I likely will still be becoming an expert in this role and working toward becoming a supervisor. Eventually I’d hope to be one of you.” The majority of that interview was junk because I was nervous, I was stereotyping, and I wasn’t being authentic. I like to think I got the job based on that one question because it was the only thing I said that made their faces light up.

I knew then, even before I had conducted a single interview of my own, that men would want a certain type of answer. After years of being on both sides of the table its been reinforced even more so. Why is it that there is such a distinction between how men and women respond to this question? I have no doubt that had I been an actual man, not just playing one for the moment, I would have been able to answer with confidence and likely not given much thought to the “right” answer. I am guessing, and I could be wrong, that at least part of the reason those men interviewing me used such a short timeframe was because they have no problem imagining themselves as an expert at something within a year or so. Why would you need to wait 5 or heaven forbid 10 years before becoming an expert? Women don’t typically think like that. We assume there will need to be time to master the nuances and have enough exposure to all of the circumstances to become an expert at anything. We see value in, or are valued for, our patience and perseverance. Women want to meet 100% of the criteria for the next step, regardless of what it is, whereas men only feel the need to meet about 60%. It’s no wonder we assume we’ll need more time to get there.

There is also a difference in determining what that next step is. Men that I have spoken to, or asked this question of myself, consistently answer that they are working to get to the top. They want to be head of sales, VP of the department, essentially, the king of the mountain (all in the next 5 years mind you). I actually had a man I was interviewing once respond to my ‘where do you see yourself’ question by asking, “Well, who’s in charge around here.” as he looked around the room. (For the moment dude, it’s me.) Mixing a top notch ego with a low level of awareness is not going to get you invited back for a second interview. While most people posses a bit more tact than that, it does seem as though the linear view of career progression remains. They are climbing the ladder, and when the goal is that clear it makes running full steam ahead toward it that much easier. Women tend to get uncomfortable when we’re asked those types of questions and I think it is because we often think in terms of impact rather than status or title. When the “next step” is wherever you can make the biggest difference, many more options are available but the path much less clear. I think that is why we end up sounding unsure of ourselves. Should we strive for the next position in the job family? Focus on building a great customer rapport? Improve our leadership and managerial skills? Maybe we should look into Marketing. When the world looks like a whole jungle gym it’s hard to know what the next step is.

The differences in men and women’s view of success, value, and how they go about achieving them is a book, not a blog post. This question truly just seems to highlight the very beginning of it. I am sure classes or books on interview skills would give you the right answer. It would probably go so far as to say if you’re a person in this specific demographic, X will be most effective, in another try Y, and if in yet another category you’re best suited to Z. You could take another approach and dissect from your manager’s style or your people focused company initiatives what the best answer in your culture would be for that performance appraisal. While I admit all of that sounds wildly interesting and full of psychological nuances and biases to be researched, looking introspectively first has always served me well.

If this is a question that has plagued you in interviews, appraisals, or just general development conversations with a manager or mentor I would challenge you to take a hard look inward as well. I look at it in three pieces:

Where are your natural talents? You can find any sort of personality assessment either in a book or online to help identify these but my guess is you already know. Think of projects that you’ve worked on that went well or what you frequently do in your personal time to keep things running smoothly. This could be organization, listening, thinking outside the box, creating relationships and connections, time management, the list goes on.

What do you do that gives you energy? Consider all of the work you do that fuels you right up. It is the kind of work that when it’s done you could just jump into the air like those bridesmaid photos without anyone around to join you. This could be seeing the confidence on someone’s face after they try makeup for the first time, putting together the most stunning pivot table the world’s ever seen, being there for the moment a child “gets it” on their math homework.

Where do these collide? Obviously we want to do what gives us energy and what we’re already good at but it also likely needs to have an income. This is the external work to find what position suits you best. Once you’ve done all of the internal work you can start identifying the role. It might fit in your current company or maybe this is something you are looking outside for. If you’re at a loss for what this might look like, you can honestly start just by Googling it. Some ideas to point you in the right direction will come up.

The goal in this exercise isn’t to get where you’re going immediately but to help understand yourself well enough to know where you in fact do see yourself in 5-10 years, regardless of which side of the coin you fall on. If you’re a corner office driving, king of the mountain kind of person you need to know why and how because those positions just aren’t going to be handed to you. If you’re unsure and don’t have a plan there is no way you can work toward it. If you appear frazzled at the question even someone with the best of intentions isn’t going to be able to help you pursue it either. After my I want to be you answer that seemed to do the trick but was just tossed out there out of nowhere response, I started doing the work for myself. I am a jungle gym person who is looking to make an impact so forging a clear ladder wouldn’t be an option. My response now is I want to lead leaders. It leaves the conversation open but describes where my passion is, and tells me a lot about the person I’m responding to when I say it, which is always fun. I believe it will take me to all sorts of positions over the course of my career (and I get to do the where do they collide exercise no matter where I’m at) while also allowing me to know my purpose and feel content in precisely the role I’m in.

Things I’m reminding myself of

You get to change your mind. If you think you’ve cornered exactly what you want from life and your career but it doesn’t fulfill you after a time, you can start over. That doesn’t make you ungrateful or impatient or indecisive. It makes you ambitious and an advocate for growth. See more on this in ‘When is Enough, Enough?’

Defining what you want and where you, yourself, individually are going is scary, and that is what makes it great. Write down all of the crazy things that come into your head as you’re thinking of your talents and your passions and what lights you on fire. You can always cross them off if they don’t fit after a second look but if you don’t take them down on actual paper they will never feel real.

There is so much value in doing this stuff yourself but friends can bring clarity. If you don’t know the answers do it as a group exercise. Answer the questions for yourselves and then for each other, without sharing, and see what you come up with and how closely they are aligned. People who are close to you might have some great ideas that you never even thought of before.

The Sweet Spot

Nearly every night I rock my littlest guy and snuggle him to get him all sleepy before putting him in his crib for the night. While he is my littlest guy he’s not so little anymore. He takes up my whole lap, his chubby little legs get shoved into the corners of the rocking chair, and his head falls high enough on my shoulder that he needs his blanket there to lay on so he doesn’t hurt his neck. His arms constantly squeeze my neck, run fingers through my hair, or rub my ears. I can feel the whole weight of him on my chest. I feel the stillness of the air in his room and the hazy darkness that comes from using blackout curtains for early bedtimes in the summer months. I typically whisper to him how he’s my favorite almost two year old in the whole world and say a prayer for the adults he and his brothers will grow into. I give him about 10,000 kisses on his forehead, nose, and little hands thinking about all of the things those little hands did today and what they’ll do tomorrow.

Rocking little men before bed has been one of my favorite parts of motherhood. It allows me to re-center, reconnect, and appreciate all of the little joys throughout the day. It also allows me some perspective to appreciate what the not so joyful moments might have be moving us toward. On particularly hard days it offers solitude and quiet where I can focus on one thing (snuggles obviously) and rock and breathe as long as I need to. I can still feel each of them and how they snuggled differently. How they each felt as tiny infants swaddled in my arms, to lanky and clumsy toddlers who still want to “rock-o”. The big guys grew, and no longer needed to rock, but still need snuggles. We still lay with them at night and now they get to be involved in the reflection of the day and thoughts of the future. Not every night is perfect and there are some times that yelling and tears (from both sides) prevail.

Last night as I was going through this time myself so I had separate time with each kid I started to consider, What is it that I like about that part of the day? I mean obviously there is a small man to hold and talk with, which is amazing, but that’s not all. There are plenty of times throughout the day and evening that I have a small man to hold and I do not feel all the feels I do at bed time. During that window I am calm and patient. I can consider and discuss what went well for the day and what didn’t. I can affirm my kids and help them dream of what comes next (sometimes it’s earning money for a toy, future career aspirations of buying a farm or working construction, or working with the princess to escape the evil witch).

Most nights at bed time, not all because of the nights of tears and whisper yelling threats of what will happen if anyone wakes the baby, I am the best version of my mom self during that time. What causes that part of the day to be different? What am I getting out of it? Could it be that my kids are different about that time of day? Is it about the one-on-one time? Am I just so tired at the end of the day from being a full time working wife and mother that I’m just out of it by then? There are some people who would read this and say, Just enjoy and leave it alone. Why dissect all of the good moments? I want to understand the all of the moments but especially the great ones. Once I understand it, how much more can I appreciate it and create more of it throughout the day?

After several years of enjoying these moments, there seem to be a few causes that make this time more magical than the other times of the day. The good news is that it has nothing to do with the time.

Focus. One of the great things about that time is that it allows me to really spend time thinking about my children. I am not distracted by my to-do list, my phone, how many steps I should be taking, if the dog got fed recently, on and on. I get to just get to notice the little belly moving in and out as he takes each breath. When we’re 100% all in in one area or with one person we can truly invest there in a way that we can’t if there is anything else going on. I am the queen of thinking I can multitask (which I do know is a myth but I will prove it wrong some day) and in the end neither of the things I set out to do are done well. Prioritizing and focusing on one thing at a time allows for much greater reward and benefit in that area.

Reflection. It is no secret that I believe there is great power in reflection. Understanding where you come from does immeasurable things for propelling you where you’re going. We so often think of that on a large scale. You reflect on your childhood relationships to better understand and navigate your adult relationships. I mean, yeah, that is a thing, but you can do that on the small scale too. I reflect on the past day, or hour, or even the conversation that was just had moments ago. Did that work the way I intended? Was I clear in my thoughts and how I communicated them? Did I teach what I set out to teach? Having a time for consistent, frequent, and honest reflection has aided me in so many different ways.

Dreaming. There is power in allowing yourself to dream. We foster this in our kids, and I certainly do at bed time, but we often stop dreaming ourselves around the time we “settle down”. For many that is having kids themselves or it could be settling into a lifestyle, career, or way of thinking. I have always been a dreamer but I think that it became such a passion to help my kids hold on to that skill that I ended up holding more closely to my own. For example, we ask our kids what they want to do when they grow up and they list a minimum of 3 careers, where they’ll live, how many kids they’ll have, and what they’re hobbies will be. I have seen kids ask their parents what they want to do when they grow up and the parent gives an age appropriate explanation of what their job is along with some sarcasm around how it’s really living the dream. That tells the kid that dreaming has to end and not because all of your dreams came true, because you settled for the fact that they won’t. It doesn’t have to end. You can make them happen. Now, if the dream is dinosaur hunting in Midwest farm land (like my five year old) you may need to adjust just a little, but don’t take the dream away from them. Help them make it so real in their minds that they can’t help but work toward it.

The reason I love that time of day (most days) is because I am at my best. I am acting as the mom I want to be. I am acting as the person I want to be. Being at your best is not exclusive to raising children, or the time of day. (If you’re close to strangling your children, spouse, pet, etcetera, at bed time, maybe look for another option.) Find a time that works, some good focus music, and do these three things for yourself. You can focus on one assignment at work, reflecting on prior feedback you got, and dream of where a pile of these successful assignments is going to propel you in your career one day. You can take time to focus on your spouse reflecting on what they have been going through resulting in what they might want or need and plan for tomorrow. You also can do this 100% solo. Take time to focus on yourself. Really do the work to understand the inputs that are creating who you are. Reflecting on how you were raised, what you’ve learned in your social circles, and what your natural biases are. Then, muse about what you want to be in the future. What does living your best life look like? What does being your best look like? Remember to make it so real in your mind that you can’t help but work toward it.

Things I’m reminding myself of

Continue to enjoy this time and don’t try to change it. My intent in discovering what makes this time great is just as I said, a way to increase those opportunities in other areas of life. It is not a means of gaining productivity in this area. I will not change this to being a check list for how I should do bed time (or any other part of life) nor will I set arbitrary future goals for the boys (or myself) as a result. I’m pretty good at taking things to the next level and that is not the purpose of this so I need to talk myself through not doing this.

Make having a time for daily reflection a priority. So far my reflection has really centered around my children which is great, however, taking time to reflect on a more broad scale will help to encompass my full being. After all I am not just a mom. I want to learn from and understand all areas of life so why not start with reflecting on them as a whole?

Dreaming can be hard if it isn’t a muscle you work often. It seems to be easier to do it for or with other people first. In times when it has been difficult for me to think through I start asking other people (sometimes my kids, friends, my husband) what they see for themselves in the future. If you had a second act (or a third or fourth), what would it look like?

All Things to All

I have mentioned before that I am most comfortable when performing a role. If I can put on a specific hat and move forward from there that is when I am in my sweet spot. If I know that right now I am supposed to be a supporter, then I will let you lean on me and be the best cheerleader until you are back on your own feet. If I am supposed to be the teacher, I will provide guidance and direction in the path you’re going down. If I am supposed to be the leader, I will stand along side you providing framework and strategy to allow you to build the plan.

The problem can come in when those hats overlap or when there are just too many of them. Some time ago I had someone on my team whom I had been friendly with prior to them reporting to me. Now, I don’t mean we were get together on the weekends type of friends but just held friendly conversations at work and would make a point of saying hi to each other regularly. It seemed like that would help the situation when she started reporting to me. In the beginning however, she was clearly irritated by the arrangement. We didn’t talk as much, which was counter intuitive since we were now on the same team. She did not feel I was the right person to lead the group and even commented to a co-worker that “If Kelly wants something she’ll just bat her eyes and throw on a short skirt to get it.”

As I’m sure you can imagine, our relationship changed a little after that. Perhaps not in the way you’d think though. I had always poured into my teams but I felt particularly compelled to do so in this situation. I was determined to show her she was wrong by letting my body of work clearly demonstrate how I could benefit the department as a whole, and her individually, by being in that role. I was also very cognizant of how I lead her to ensure she was supported and had appropriate room for growth. Our relationship started to improve and she began to trust me. We began talking more and her work product started improving. She was reaching for more in her goals; adding value in her current role, planning for future career development, improving relationships in her personal life, and even adding a physical goal or two. Well naturally I was ecstatic at the progress. I started doubling down on my efforts. What if I could apply what I was seeing success in on the professional side to improve things in other areas of life? I started showing more of an interest in her workout journey. I started asking more and more about the personal relationships she was concerned about. I focused on modeling other behaviors I thought would make a positive impact for her.

I wasn’t delusional enough to believe that I was the one making the progress for her but I could see how my efforts were supporting her in the work she was putting in. This of course got me thinking how much other progress people could make if they were supported the same way. I started leaving bread crumbs for people to see if they too would gravitate to me supporting them in all the areas of their life and filling each role between the hours of 7 and 4. I slowly started gaining momentum with other people and fueling that momentum with my excitement to make a difference.

Pump the breaks

If you’re not in a formal leadership role or maybe haven’t been for long, you might have read that and not realized how far off the deep end I was. I can think back to that time and see I was wearing about 15 different hats all for one person on my team. That is too many. I can just imagine myself walking around with this giant stack of hats trying desperately to find the right one for each situation and struggling to get it on my head at the start of each interaction. Then remember again that this was all for one member of the team. I had a large team and then was responsible for supporting the rest of the department. Also, there was this whole family happening back at home and friends and community responsibilities, not to mention me. I was taking so much time monitoring her cup to ensure it was full I wasn’t even looking at mine.

To further all of that, I had a very individual model I was using to manage the team. By that I mean, I was building the structure for my leadership of the team to have all of my reporting relationships look like what I was doing with that one employee. It makes sense when you think about how I was living in that moment. I was seeing success by the amount and the way I was investing in her. If I did that with each person I might see success the same way. It’s logical, just not sustainable and doesn’t fit the strategy I truly desired for scalability of the team.

I needed to slow down enough to reflect on what was happening and take inventory of all of the roles I had assigned myself. Which ones were serving me and which were best serving the people I needed to support? How could I make the most of my time to make it work for my team and other’s in the department without giving all of it away? How could I make sure my glass was overflowing rather than tipping over?

Make a U-turn

There are a number of things I did to make changes in this area which fostered better relationships, empowered each person, and facilitated them owning their own progress. I would sum it all up into 3 different areas though; prioritize, ask questions, and check progress.

Prioritize

First and foremost I needed to prioritize the relationships I was pouring into. (If you’ve read other posts you know this is a recurring theme. I am a work in progress and not being everything to everyone is something I continue to work on.) First and foremost I needed to pour into myself. I want all of the good that is in me to come pouring out of my glass because it is overflowing. I need to focus on filling that first. Then, my family needs to get the best of me. If we’re not healthy and supporting each other at home I have no hope for the work or social aspects. There needs to be a well functioning home life first so my husband, kids, and outward from there come first. Finally, my team comes in third in this equation (which is lower than they originally fell). The beauty of that is that if efforts are prioritized in the right way there is so much more available to them. Think of the rock, sand, water analogy. If you pour the water in first not only is there no room for anything else but without the rocks and sand there is no dimension or structure to hold the water in place. It is a boring yet unstable container and any bump could cause significant disruption. Conversely, with the added rocks and sand, not only is there room but more substance available and added structure to protect from disruption.

As I noted already I had taken inventory of the roles (or hats) I had been acting in at work. I decided that for my team and colleagues I would act as confidant, coach, and advocate. There are rare situations where I’ll go outside of that but they are few and far between. As a confidant my team, and others that work with me, know that I’m ready and available to listen if there is anything they would like to confide in me in. I will listen without judgement and without giving direction unless asked for. Often, people just want to be heard and they have every skill and ability to deal with their problem they just want someone to listen to the concern. This can at times lead into coaching. In this instance coaching looks like asking a lot of questions which allows an individual to continue to own their situation while benefiting from the guidance of someone certainly could step in and redirect if they were heading in a detrimental direction. Being an advocate means asking, “What do you need from me?” a whole lot, and then following through on it. Truly the most common response I get from this question is just listen. Sometimes it is help me determine the best next step. Infrequently it is something along the lines of fix it. I also advocate by way of giving credit. If a member of the team did something significant that I am getting credit for as the leader all of the credit is given back to them. If I’m asked about results and I know a coworker is putting forth significant effort regardless of “the numbers” I will call that out.

Ask questions

I already mentioned a few of the ways where I started asking more questions. One significant change was just asking more about things I don’t understand while others were around to see it. I am naturally pretty adverse to looking like I don’t know everything. I dread asking a stupid question or appearing to not be in the know. However, I want my team and others around me, to feel comfortable asking questions to any and every resource they need. As we saw above, I can’t be the only one who they come to, I don’t have all the answers nor do I have the capacity. Therefore, I need to model the behavior I want them to exhibit. Ask more questions about a workflow, about a technical requirement, be open about the things you don’t understand, and people will feel more comfortable doing it too.

Asking the simple question of, “Is there anything else you need me to be doing for you?”, was also a game changer. That sounds a little counter intuitive right? Like maybe people will add things to your plate or ask that you fill more roles if you ask that. What I’ve found though is that most of the time it just ties things up with a nice bow. It makes sure that I, and the team member I’m working with, are on the same page and they are feeling fully heard. There are instances where I ask that and I get some request that I didn’t see coming. This is immensely helpful because if I have any blinders on that are hindering my ability to support people I obviously need those removed. Asking that question has helped me to identify and remove those blinders in a couple situations.

Check progress

Touching base with someone on the progress they’re making is beneficial for you, the person you’re working with, and the relationship as a whole. First it allows you to stay connected and continue to show genuine interest in them. This helps them to feel valued and further builds the relationship. It also keeps the ownership of the development in the appropriate person’s court. If you’re asking them how it is going working toward a specific goal it keeps them accountable and reaffirms that it is their goal not something you’re in together. Checking progress while paying attention to the response you’re getting also allows you to take this full circle and reprioritize. It is still work to pour into people this way and if they are choosing not to make progress or are not engaging, it allows you to step back. Finally, checking progress allows you margin because you know you’re going to ask. Let me give an example here. In my original structure, how I was setting up the team to allow for me basically do life with all of them, I wouldn’t have needed to check in. I wouldn’t have needed to really ask any questions at all. I had such a close touch that I just knew. Getting to a point that I am consistently (not constantly) asking for an update on the progress allows me more space.

There is no one right way to lead a team, family, or group. If your circle is small and doing life right along with each of them is something you can manage by all means, get after it. If your circle is wider though know that it is OK to not be able to (or frankly just not want to) be everything to everyone. You can still have close personal relationships without living it out with them every single day. Some teams do great work together without having any sort of personal relationship. The one thing you do need to do is decide what you want it to look like. What is your strategy? What sort of hats do you want to wear? What would be most beneficial to your people and your cause? Heck, before you get to that one you may need to decide, what is your cause? Do that part with intentionality and the rest of the details will start falling into place.

Things I’m reminding myself of

People will get disappointed. No matter what I do some people at some time will be disappointed. That does not mean that I need to do anything different. I do not need to pour more into them. I do not need to open more doors. I do not need to change my strategy or style or intentions just because they are disappointed. I might review and reevaluate based on what I see but that is very different from reacting to other people’s disappointment and discontentment.

Keep a lot of hats in the closet and only a few by the door. I want to be a chameleon and have the ability to adapt to situations and fill the role that is needed. Being adaptable does not necessarily mean carrying all of this with me at all times. If I can identify what roles I want to play most often and keep those in the forefront I’ll be focused on who I desire to be without distraction. Having the rest of them available (though not readily) allows me to use them if the need arises.

Somewhere in the Middle

Have you ever gotten in your car and chosen a direction rather than a destination? Taken a few days off or maybe even a week and just said, I’m going West, rather than, I’m spending a few days in the Black Hills. You just drive knowing your direction and see how far it takes you. When you get hungry you find a restaurant, when you get tired you start looking for hotels. You spend a few hours in one town then spend a day exploring another you never heard of, and then stop at a historical marker or two. Maybe you never even make it that far. Maybe West was just two hours away and you stay put until you need to start heading home. I love those kind of trips. I know for many others the very thought gives them heart palpitations but for me its truly invigorating.

Growing up we would do trips the way I described frequently. My family spent a lot of time on the water. We would take our boat out on Lake Michigan and just ride around looking at rocks, visiting islands, and stopping at a town or two. I can’t say that I loved every stop along the way but I did love just going where the wind takes you. Perhaps my parents actually did have a plan for the day but I didn’t know it. It felt simultaneously exciting and calming to just be in the moment and enjoying whatever struck our fancy on the lake.

As I got older, and planned my own trips with other people, the directional goal shifted to more of a destination. It seemed to become more about packing as much into the time as possible. Those vacations exhaust me. Sure you experience a lot and you have many different pictures to show off of all the things you did but you (or at least I) come back tired and needing a vacation from the vacation. It seems as though you hit all of the highlights but get none of the content, like reading a great novel in bullet format. What’s the point? I have walked through museums where I couldn’t tell you a single thing I’ve learned once I leave. I’ve gone hiking or snowshoeing where the pace was such that I had to focus on my feet to ensure I didn’t fall rather than taking in the nature around me. I have gone to local restaurants, steeped with culture and history, only to check the time before we even sit down to make sure we’re on schedule. I have hustled kids through petting zoos for the appropriate photo-op without letting them discover new creatures. I have sat in theaters waiting for shows to start, considering if a delay will impact the end time which could affect timing with traffic to be able to get to the next destination. (That’s a pretty short list and even that is exhausting.)

When I have traveled alone and have all the control over what I do and for how long, I actually tend to do the opposite. I am so overwhelmed by the possibilities or afraid of what I might encounter, that I end up holing up in the hotel room and never seeing what is beyond my window. What if I waste the time or money doing something that wasn’t worth it? What if it’s not safe? What if I get lost and my navigation doesn’t work and then my phone goes dead and I run out of gas?! (Not likely but a legitimate worm hole my mind has traveled down.)

So here I am, talking about the ideal but actually living on either end of the spectrum. I want to immerse myself in the experience but am either too busy or too scared to actually live it out. It is easy for me to stand on a soap box and profess to enjoy the ride, it’s the journey not the destination, be brave and relish the adventure but I’m not living it out.

Right now you may be thinking, Wow Kel, putting an awful lot of emphasis on proper vacation strategies. How often do we do that though, how many different instances do you have an opinion or a goal or an expectation that is then thrown entirely off course when we put it into practice. Personally, in real time, I’m processing this through two questions; what is my end goal and why am I afraid?

Consider what your end goal is, as opposed to that of what you think it should be or what others’ would have as theirs. If you’re still strictly looking at this through a vacation lens, why do you want to hit all the spots and do all the things? Is it because you want to have the best posts about vacation? Or maybe it’s because all of your friends suggested different things you should do or try? Perhaps you need to reexamine the amount of time you took to include it all? Let’s branch out from there though. What about in communicating with your team, be that team at work, your family, a social or community club? Do you say you want collaboration and then dismiss any ideas that don’t come from your own mind? Those actions might be enabling you to make progress quickly sure but it doesn’t align with what you said the strategy was. Follow that bunny trail until you figure out why. Another example that often resonates with people is career pathing. What are your career goals? Are you working toward them, or are you saying them and then following the steps to achieve the goals your parents, your partner, or your friends would set for you? Are you doing that because you don’t want to disappoint them? Is it easier to follow their more traditional path? Are you altering your plan to avoid an uncomfortable conversation?

We often just want to see activity and we assume that the activity will move us in the right direction. The truth is if you don’t understand how the activity relates to your end goal the odds of it moving you in the right direction are slim. Imagine your trip West without a map or sense of direction. You might go East, North, or South and probably make a few circles none of which got you any closer to where you actually wanted to go. Sometimes it takes realizing what the incongruency in your end goal and your actions is to identify and address the outside factors.

On the other end of the spectrum we have fear. If not understanding your end goal is like driving without a map then fear is like getting all packed up and never starting the engine. Again I believe it all comes back to why. Why are you afraid? In the travel space I know exactly what I’m afraid of, I’m afraid of getting lost. The question is why? I am afraid of it because it happens so darn often to me. I get lost all the time. Why does that happen? It happens because I follow GPS without actually thinking about where I’m going and then seconds before a turn I decide I am smarter than the computer and do something other than what that pretentious little voice told me to. OK. (That might have hit a sore spot but the answer is out.) So now that I better understand it I can make a decision to either, pay more attention so that I do know where I am or where I’m going without the GPS or actually follow it. You can do the same with any other example too just make sure you’re asking why and not what. Consider communication again. If you’re not sharing your thoughts on a particular subject and are withholding information, why? Maybe you are afraid it will come across wrong or you won’t communicate it properly. Why? It could be a difficult topic or message that is hard to deliver. Why? It might be something that you don’t particularly agree with or like. Why? You may not fully understand it or the ramifications. OK. Before you communicate get a better understanding. If you can’t, explain that you trust and support whomever the decision making entity is but that you’re asking more questions yourself to better understand.

The gift of fear is awareness. Being aware of why you’re afraid doesn’t get rid of fear, it does help you to better equip yourself so that you can act in the face of fear (that’s how I define bravery). In neither of my examples did I say they weren’t legitimate fears or to ignore it, I came up with tools or resources based on why I was afraid.

Are you ever going to live completely independently of what other’s expect or never let fear impact your decisions, very likely not. The moral of both is move to middle ground. Don’t generate activity and hit everything you can just because it seems like the thing to do, and don’t become paralyzed by fear. It is the journey that makes life worth living and if you’re not enjoying it, or you’re so stuck you haven’t even started, you’re missing it. You are missing the best part. The messy, broken, wrong turn that leads to seeing the most magnificent sight type of best part. There is no crystal ball that will get you magically down the right path with no errors and no fear along the way but if you intentionally choose your steps and use your new found awareness as your compass all of the wrong turns will be worth it.

Things I’m reminding myself of

Your actions do not need to align with goals, plans, or priorities of someone else; they need to further yours. Reread that, and again. It’s ok to have the different goals, it’s ok to have similar goals. You might decide to align yours with your partner, your friends, your workplace but once you have decided on what they are then match up the actions.

You don’t have to love every stop along the way to enjoy the journey. You sometimes have to stop to remind yourself to breath it in; in the good times and the bad. Let yourself feel the joy, the warmth, the achievement as well as the discomfort, the pain, and the frustration. You can hold all of them simultaneously which I am so grateful for. Holding on to and truly experiencing all of them is to truly live life abundantly.