Scott Eblin, the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success. Scott is also an executive coach, speaker, and blogger. He is a former Fortune 500 HR executive, president of The Eblin Group and graduate of Davidson College, Harvard University, and Georgetown University’s leadership coaching certificate program, where he is also on the faculty. He’s been a long-time friend of Great Leadership, and I really respect him and his work.
Would you like a free copy of the brand new edition of Next Level? We’ll give away five copies to the “best” (insight, originality, humor, etc…) answers to Scott’s question at the end of the post. Be sure to include a way for me to contact you (email or Twitter handle) if you’d like to be eligible.
One of the typical challenges that leaders have when they take on a bigger job is figuring out what they need to let go of and what they need to pick up in terms of where they spend their time and attention. There’s a simple question I like to ask executives to consider as they sort this out – What is it that only I can do?
When I’m coaching people through this question, I’m quick to point out what the question isn’t about. It’s not about personal indispensability. As the founder of modern France, Charles deGaulle said, “The cemeteries are full of indispensable men.” Yeah, as special and wonderful as each of us are in our own unique ways, none of us are indispensable. If we get hit by a bus, it’s likely that the bus is carrying someone who can step into our role.
But, for now, you are the only person filling your role. So, it’s important to ask that simple question in a slightly different way – What is it, given the role that I’m in and all of the unique resources and opportunities that come with it, that only I can do?
If you think about it, there’s probably a pretty short but very high impact list of things that only you can do as the person filling your role. What is it that comes with your role that enables you to get things done that others can’t? It could be any number of things including:
• Decision making authority
• Participation in leadership conversations
• Access to key people
• Ability to get the meetings you need
With characteristics like that, your list of the things that only you can might include knocking down barriers for your team, securing resources, building alliances, setting goals or energizing others around a vision. Your list probably shouldn’t include activities just because you could do them or are good at doing them. Those likely aren’t the list of things that only you can do in your role. Focus on the things that will really leverage the unique opportunities of your role.
Here’s an example of how it plays out in real life. One of my clients was the president of the Federal business unit of his company. He’s a talented guy with a lot of experience and capabilities. In a conversation with his team about the “What is it that only I can do?” question, someone said to him:
"I’ll tell you what only you can do – be the president. When I’m making that final call on a deputy undersecretary of a federal agency to sell a big contract, I need you to show up as our president. I need you to show your interest, that you’re well informed and say that you’ll make sure we deliver for them. I don’t need you to work with us on the third draft of the proposal or run the numbers for the fifth time. We’ve got other people who can do that. I need you to show up as the president because you’re the only president we’ve got."
The same is true for you. Whatever role you’re filling for your team and organization, approach it like you’re the only one they’ve got. What is it, given your role, that only you can do?