A few years ago, I had a client who came to me with a problem he was having with one of his managers. This manager created chaos every time he gave her a project to lead. In this situation, she was about to start an extended absence for maternity leave. My client wanted to make sure that his team could take care of her projects 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 also 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 you, then 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. His team simplified projects, streamlined processes, and instinctively knew how to complete tasks. Department managers knew where to get the answers to their questions and things moved more smoothly. There was less anxiety in the air. In hindsight, no one really missed her overbearing and controlling approach. Did they notice she was away? You bet, but for all the wrong reasons.
If you don’t know whether others will miss you or simply notice your absence, 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.
“Thanks to your planning, we met the deadline without any issues, but we sure missed your jokes at lunch.” You can feel confident that your contributions helped your team function without missing a beat in your absence.
“It was pretty quiet and we actually got a lot done while you were gone thanks to Bob’s workaround.” 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 and picked up her projects again. She dismantled all the progress her colleagues made, and went right back to being disruptive. 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. The short answer was no, there was no budget for that.
My client realized that if he continued to let his manager disrupt important projects, his statistics would take a hit and he didn’t want to lose that momentum. In the end, he moved her to a position focused on evaluating data. It had little interaction and dependence on other people. This helped her adjust to returning to work after her extended absence. He then slowly reintroduce projects when she was better able to handle the workload.
The drama she created made 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. You want to leave a legacy, contribute to a bigger vision, and succeed on a much bigger scale. Spend your time creating situations where the others around you also benefit. They will miss you, not only 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.