In the past, I’ve mentioned the importance of message; how it describes the essence of who you are professionally and allows you to create your own game and define your unique place in the market. When you tell stories around your message, you’re detailing the professional value you bring to an organization – your leadership narrative.
Leadership is a tricky subject. Leaders are often viewed as people who run organizations, from teams to corporations. I believe leaders are people who influence the actions of others or the direction of organizations. You don’t have to be at the top of the organization to be a leader.
From Technical Chops to Leadership Chops
Last winter, I worked with a group of senior-level engineers who had been laid of from their company. Their roles included a Vice President, a couple of Directors and several Sr. Project Managers. When we began working together to build their narrative, every one of them identified as an engineer and listed their technical expertise as their main qualification.
All these guys (they were all male) had managed major projects for their company, leading remote teams around the world and they had been in this leadership capacity for the past 15 to 20 years.
They weren’t going to be hired in their next job for their technical chops; they would be hired for their leadership chops. There would always be someone younger, faster and cheaper in the technical realm – that’s a commodity role. However, the ability to successfully run major projects with global teams – that’s an asset role – one of leadership.
This was a surprise to them. After all they had initially been hired at their company because of their technical expertise as engineers. At the beginning, their narrative was one of technical engineering. As they progressed in their careers, that narrative changed. It was now one of leadership.
We worked together to build new leadership narratives for them; narratives that would be assets to other industries other than just the one in which they had spent most of their careers.
Later I had the opportunity to work with another group that had been laid off. This was a group of traditional “blue collar” manufacturing workers who had worked in a mill that was closing.
Again, these people saw themselves in terms of their technical or mechanical skills. They were welders, mechanics and machine operators. These were hands-on folks who fixed machinery and kept the mill running. They took pride in their mechanical skills. They also took pride in their work ethic – their reliability and punctuality.
As we talked, it became clear that they were more than mechanics. They were problem solvers (assets). They told stories of trouble shooting tough problems and rebuilding machinery in the mill to minimize production downtime, thus saving the company money. Their stories focused on working collaboratively with other teams to meet critical deadlines. So we rebuilt their narratives to focus on leadership roles rather than as commodities in a production mill.
Retool Your Narrative
The point is your professional narrative changes over time. Often your career begins with specific skills that position you as a commodity. Over time you progress to a more asset-based role, where your value is based less on your initial skillset and more on the leadership qualities you now possess. It’s important that to “retool” your narrative to reflect this value.
So over to you…How has your narrative change in your career? Can you tell a narrative that casts you as an asset or are you still telling one that keeps you a commodity?
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