Assigned. Chosen. Earned. Part 2 – 2 Stories and a Challenge

We shape our impact with our choices of how we respond to our circumstances and the influence we earn in our networks.  Our jobs and the hierarchy do not determine our ability to influence.

That concise message was prompted by The Australian Leadership Paradox, a book on improving leadership in Australia by tackling issues like roles and authority. Geoff Aigner, one of the co-authors, asked me for stories that brought a richer context to my last post. Here are two examples:

A Job. Limited Power.

At the launch of the Academy in NAB, I was asked to become the inaugural Dean of Customer Experience.  The job was tasked with building customer experience capability enterprise wide across a large financial services group.  As a direct report of the Australian CEO, the job was a high profile one in an important initiative.  

However, that description was where the hierarchical power stopped.  The role had no direct reports.  Everyone in learning reported to other leaders in a central learning function or across the many businesses.  There was no reporting on how much learning work was actually going on. The activity and budgets sat in these widely distributed teams. Everyone already had too much work. The Academy was being created because there was a need for better collaboration across businesses on learning. Nobody had seen a Dean before and there was no idea yet what they did.

I had to choose the role that I would play. I could have seen the situation as impossible and quickly failed. I could have chosen to influence the CEO and leverage his power to direct action. However, the giddy sensation of power would be temporary and the businesses would have quickly locked me out. The CEO would have rightly questioned the value I added. My authority would erode if it did not come from my relationships.

I chose instead to share my passion for learning, to advocate for the Academy and to help facilitate a community of the learning professionals across the organisation.  I chose to engage the business by demonstrating new ways for learning to lead change, to solve problems and to demonstrate the value of collaboration. Over time, my authority and my influence increased because of the impact the Academy team delivered.  People began to ask the Deans and the Academy to help solve tricky issues well beyond learning. That influence continued when I left the job.  After all, nobody had told me what role to play, so nobody could tell me to stop just because a job went away.

Why Are You Doing This Again?

The experience of being Dean led to my role in helping sponsor and grow NAB’s Yammer community.  When Yammer began at NAB, it was unofficial with no budget or sponsorship.  There was no place for it in the hierarchy. For the Yammer community to grow, it needed many leaders to choose play the roles of sponsors, advocates and community leaders, because these roles were not in anyone’s job description.  

Over and over again, as we did this, we were each asked a variant of the question:

Why are you doing this again?

Our answer was simple.  The roles were needed and the community added great value to NAB.  It was not our job but somebody had to do it.  We could play the roles and so we chose to do so.

For five years, I worked with other leaders in that Yammer community.  Everyone’s time was volunteered above delivery of the expectations their day jobs which ranged from Graduate to Executive General Manager. We did what was required to build a successful and vibrant community. The roles we played grew the benefits for NAB and the engagement of the community until we ultimately prepared a business case for sponsorship and formal adoption by the company.  

In this process, each of those leaders built their unique position of authority in the community. Many of the leaders got new roles as a result of demonstrating their ability to play different roles and their growing authority. In addition, the community was stronger because its leadership came from within.

Over to you: A challenge – your new role

  1. What problem or opportunity can you see that doesn’t fit in somebody’s job?
  2. What role could you play to draw attention to or solve for that problem or opportunity?
  3. Whose authority & support do you need to make the change happen?

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