A few years ago, I had a client who came to me with a problem he was having with one of his managers. She had a habit of creating chaos every time she was handed a project to lead. In addition to that, she was about to start an extended absence for maternity leave, and my client wanted to make sure that her projects were well taken care of while she was gone. This way, when she came back she could transition into her role without issues.
The first step was to dig into the reason she had a tendency to create so much chaos. It turns out that making drama around her projects made her feel valued – and she displayed this by creating tight deadlines, positioning herself as an expert in nearly every situation, and reiterating how important it was to have her involved in nearly every aspect of her projects. Have you ever encountered a person like this? More importantly, to a certain degree, do you see yourself in this scenario? If so, then it’s time to assess how much you add value to the people and situations around you.
Here are three questions that will help you determine your value.
For those of you who work for large companies, the answer is yes. No doubt about it. The impact that you’re trying to make, however, is that you leave a positive lasting impression. Putting systems in place to not only help you do your job, but help others who need to step into your shoes in your absence, goes a long way to making sure you leave a lasting legacy as a problem solver.
On the other hand, for those of you who have given blood, sweat and tears to grow your own business, this question is a little tougher. Understanding how you want your business to exist in the market helps to get perspective on the level of involvement you have in day-to-day decision-making. If you believe the business is an extension of you and it would cease to exist without your regular input, be prepared for it to struggle once you’re absent. An extended absence could be anything from a sudden illness to a family emergency, or even a retirement – because many times the retirement doesn’t stick. Taking the time to evaluate how your business will survive without you, even with a short-term absence, can go a long way in making sure that it can weather any situation that comes up.
Seth Godin’s recent blog post touched on this nicely by differentiating between what it means to leave a job and determine whether your colleagues will miss you when you’re gone, or simply notice that you’re gone. Once my client’s manager went on maternity leave, things seemed to calm down immediately. Projects became simple, processes were streamlined, and somehow everyone at work knew what was expected of them. Department managers knew where to get the answers to their questions, things moved more smoothly and there was less anxiety in the air. In hindsight, no one really missed her approach to getting things done. Did they notice she was away? You bet, but for all the wrong reasons.
If you’re not sure whether you are missed or noticed, try asking a simple question when you return, “How did it go while I was away?” The answer to this question will tell you plenty. If you contribute in a positive way that helps the others around you function without missing a beat in your absence, then you can expect an answer like, “It was pretty quiet and we met the deadline without issues thanks to your planning, but we missed your hilarious stories at lunch.” If, on the other hand, you have a tendency to believe that no one but you can do your job and the answer sounds more like this, “It was pretty quiet but we actually got a lot done while you were gone thanks to Bob’s workaround,” then you may be on the receiving end of a hard truth. This is the moment you want to evaluate your approach and see how it compares to the solutions used in your absence. Having the self-awareness to learn how to contribute smarter, not louder, will go a long way in building your personal brand as an indispensable leader.
Let’s circle back to my client’s manager. She returned from maternity leave, picked up her projects again, dismantled all the systems her colleagues put in place while she was gone, and went right back to being loud and disruptive, only this time she added one more request – she now needed additional staff to help her “fix” everything that fell apart in her absence. This was her way of angling for more authority and the short answer was no, there was no budget for that. My client also realized that if he continued to let his manager create so much drama around important projects, his statistics would take a hit, as well, and he didn’t want to lose the momentum he had built while she was gone. In the end, he moved her to a position focused on evaluating data that had little interaction and dependence on other people. This helped her adjust to returning to work after her extended absence and allowed him to slowly reintroduce the bigger projects when she was better able to handle the workload.
The drama she was creating certainly seemed to make her valuable in her eyes, but to everyone else it was disruptive. If the only objective of showing up in your job is to promote yourself, then you’re missing the point on what it takes to leave a legacy, contribute to a bigger vision, and succeed on a much bigger scale. You don’t want people to look up one day and notice that you’re gone for all the wrong reasons, instead spend your time creating situations where the others around you also benefit, and you’ll be missed, not just for your accomplishments but also for how you helped others succeed. That’s how you create a powerful personal brand.
Christina Holloway is a leadership development and business coach. She helps executives and entrepreneurs grow their companies faster, create results-driven teams, and increase profitability. She is a member of the Forbes Coaches Council, and has been featured in The Huffington Post, Addicted2Success and Fast Company. If you’re interested in working with Christina, take a look at her strategy sessions and contact her to get started.