What’s Your Role?

It lasted less than a minute and was one of the most illuminating conversations of my working life.

Midway through my military career I changed occupations, a significant event involving a lot of retraining and the hard work necessary to build credibility in a new field.  A few months after my training was over, the Commanding Officer of my new unit pulled me aside at a social event and asked me how things were going.  Emboldened by a couple of pints of craft beer, I told him that I thought that I had made a huge mistake.  He was good enough to take me seriously and asked me why I felt that way.  I regaled him with a long list of the things that I couldn’t do in my new occupation.  He thought for a moment and said, “You’re still thinking like someone in your old occupation.  There your credibility as a leader derived from the fact that you could do everything your soldiers did and do it better than most of them.  That’s not possible in this occupation and nobody expects it.  Here your role as a leader is to be an integrator and your credibility derives from knowing how to put all of the pieces together to make something greater than the individual parts.”  A few simple words, but that re-framing of the situation set me on the road to confidence and success in my new occupation.

Two thoughts:

First, do you know what your role is?  Hint to newly-promoted leaders: it’s not what it was in your last job.  Your incredible technical skills aren’t the most important thing now that you are a Team Lead.  That amazing attention to fine detail that left everyone in awe when you were still a manager, that’s not as important now that you are an executive.  I believe that it was Peter Drucker who observed that the fastest route to failure in a new job was to continue to do what made you successful in your last job.

Second, is there a struggling someone who needs to hear this from you?  Never underestimate the power of a timely word.

     Finally, a very public word of thanks to Major General (Retired) David Neasmith, OMM, CD, the Commanding Officer of this story.

What is your role as a leader today?  How might it change tomorrow?  What about the leaders who are working for you?  What conversations do you need to have with them on this topic?  Let’s talk about it.