Everyone knows this… it’s obvious, isn’t it?
The leaders around us are often those people for whom everything seems to come easily. Some have a natural charisma. Others, an effortless ability as a compelling orator. Many have a way with people that inspires confidence, whatever the undertaking or expected outcome.
These are only a few of the characteristics we observe in those we recognize as leaders. But, have you ever stopped and considered how this somewhat amorphous concept we label as leadership leads to a successful career?
Taken alone, none of the observable behaviors justify a particular level of career success.
When was the last time you met someone who introduced themselves as the Vice President of Charisma or the Director of Motivational Speaking? Probably never. There must be more to career success than the more obvious leadership attributes.
What about those individuals that are not yet in a leadership or management role? You may see peers that step into a leadership practice as the situation requires it — you may be that person yourself. This works to display your preparedness for a promotion, as well as the increased responsibilities that come with it.
So, we can identify the examples of leaders around us. Some are in positions we aspire to, and some are our peers. But, an understanding and adoption of leadership attributes alone won’t get us to our career destination.
You need to ask yourself harder questions:
- Do you understand the value you bring to your organization or business?
- Do you understand how your value offering fits into the business strategy?
- Do you understand the primary objective of the business? How do you support that objective?
- And finally, how can you positively increase your ability to impact that goal for the business?
Now, the concept of leadership takes on a new light.
It becomes the vehicle by which you expand your ability to meaningfully contribute towards the achievement of the foundational goal that is core to every business.
You may still doubt your role in what feels like a significant, ambitious, and impactful initiative. This may be a part of the business that appears to be a step too far from your day-to-day.
Especially if you only manage a small team or none at all. Isn’t this the domain of the executives? Maybe the board of directors?
This is the limiting belief that holds back so many people. They fail to see the connection between their role in the business and the core business objective. In some cases, they may not even understand the core business objective at all.
Let’s dig in and clarify why you need to set this aside, and how doing so will help your career.
Every business has the same primary objective
Whether non-profit or for-profit, companies exist to make money. Each type differs in what they do with that money, but at their core, they share that common trait.
Now, before you launch into an argument about the evils of capitalism or how profiteering companies are destroying society, note that I said money, not profit.
The primary objective of every business is to make money so that they can then pursue their secondary goals. Paying employees, supporting the homeless, earning dividends for shareholders, researching cures for diseases, or funding the CEO’s bonus: all secondary objectives. And quite different in their impact and reception…
First, the business has to make money.
If we can agree on that, I’ll leave it as an exercise for you to determine what secondary objectives are well aligned to your own values.
Career advancement is driven by increased impact
If you want more, be prepared to do more.
But, and please take this to heart: don’t fall into the trap of thinking that doing more for the business means more extended hours.
What we often overlook in our first evaluation of the leaders around us is what it is that they actually do for the business.
Speaking, coaching, mentoring, evaluating, making decisions: the things we associate with leaders are not what they bring to the business in exchange for career advancement. Those are the tools they use to achieve their objectives and meet their responsibilities.
What they bring to the business is an increased impact on the company by increasing the capabilities of a given team or department to meet the business objectives effectively.
How can you learn from and replicate this?
If you want to increase your impact, you have to bring more value
You must find ways to improve your personal contribution and impact to the business as a whole.
Ask yourself: How can you improve your ability to help the business achieve its objectives?
The first step is to get a clear understanding of those objectives and how your skills and role coincide. Push yourself here as much as needed to really understand this, and ask questions where required. As your understanding of the big picture for the business grows, you will see how your role fits into the achievement of critical objectives. From there, it’s a matter of identifying your tactical expertise and looking for opportunities to grow impact in the right areas, with what you know or can learn and adapt to the benefit of the business.
Equally as important is to understand how you can do this without working around the clock.
We all have the same 1440 minutes in a day
How often have you heard someone say, “I just don’t have time for that.”?
The truth, painful as it may be for us to admit to ourselves, is that we all have the same amount of time in the day.
The person who claims to be perpetually busy and achieves nothing of particular note day in and day out has 1,440 minutes to spend every day.
The person who founded a company that goes on to achieve a valuation of over $1,000,000,000,000 did it by wisely using those same 1,440 minutes every day.
Set your priorities in a meaningful way and stick to them.
And, most importantly, don’t accept any excuses about not having enough time — especially when they come from within. We all have the same amount of available time. What differs is in how we choose to use it.
Leadership is the skill that enables you to scale your impact exponentially
Now you may be a bit confused.
First, I tell you not to fall into the trap of working around the clock to achieve more in your career. Then I ask you to use your time wisely and stop making excuses.
Let me explain.
If you want to achieve noticeable growth in your impact on any business, you have to move beyond looking only at yourself and what you personally contribute.
You cannot work 24 hours a day while maintaining consistent output and quality of contribution, and not literally die in the effort. Even if you could, you are still limited in the contribution you can make by those 1,440 minutes.
Trust me on this one, I’ve tried it. I learned the hard way exactly how ineffective it is.
Short term gains that sacrifice everything else do not make for a long term viable plan.
What are you to do then?
The question you need to ask is the same that those $1T businesses had to answer: How can we scale?
How then do you scale a person?
Improve your leadership skills, improve your impact & value, and you will improve your career
If you genuinely believe you have the ideas, the knowledge, the expertise, the drive to have a meaningful and significant impact on your business, you must become a leader.
If you can see that you are approaching the limits of what you can achieve and how far you can grow as an individual contributor, you must become a leader.
If you want to enable virtually unlimited growth potential within your career, you must become a leader.
Leadership is the realization of the traits, habits, skills, and practices that enable you to influence a group of people to act toward a common goal.
If you have the vision to take your team, your organization, even your market to the next level, you need to develop your leadership skills. Doing so is the only hope you have to find the resources necessary to achieve that vision, rather than sacrificing yourself to it ineffectually.
What you can achieve with a well-directed team will always far surpass anything you can do, when acting alone.
If you would argue this point and provide examples where you work better alone, I would challenge you to push yourself harder. Set your goals higher. Expand your vision to something that feels out of reach. Then lead your team or organization to achieve it.
Do this, and your impact on the business becomes both exponentially more valuable, and impossible to ignore.
Your organization will recognize this, and the career path you envision for yourself will follow.
I hope you enjoyed this, and if you want to see more from me, I invite you to join my group of Intentional Leaders here.
I hope you join us, and I look forward to sharing your leadership journey.
Matthew Overlund writes non-fiction and coaches professional development for new (or not so new) managers at Leadership & Vision, where he helps amazing people realize a higher potential as they evolve from getting things done to making things happen.
When he’s not writing, coaching, or generally masquerading as a code jockey, solutions architect, or product manager, Matt occasionally writes, thinks, reads, or talks about fiction — where understanding the characters on the page help him try to understand the characters in the world.