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  • Writer's pictureBrett Simpson

In my experience…Role can be different than title

My daughters played soccer for many years and on several occasions switched teams.  With each move came the angst about what position they’d play on the new team.  The concern being that maybe the coach thinks they’d be better at a new position, or already has a player at their desired position.  Some coaches would ask where they wanted to play, but that didn’t always mean that’s where they would play, because in the end it was the coach’s job to set the best line-up for success.

When these new team situations arose, I encouraged my daughters to share their preferences with the coaches, but to include a caveat.  That caveat went something like this, “I like to play X for reasons A, B and C, but I can play wherever you put me coach (except goalie…my mom doesn’t want me playing goalie!).”  This allowed them to state their case but concede the final call to the coach with gracious flexibility and a team-player attitude.

My wisdom-proffering didn’t stop there much to my daughters’ chagrin.  I explained the rationale, which was that sometimes the formally designated position you’ve been given is secondary to the role you actually play.  In my experience, role can be different than position or title.  While the genius of this was often not fully appreciated by my daughters, or at best merely tolerated, I’ve found it to be applicable in my professional life as well.

I can’t think of any job I’ve had since completing school where there wasn’t the possibility of expanding the circle of impact and influence such that the role was bigger than the title. That’s not to say I expanded my role in every instance or that when I did it was done successfully all the time. Rather, that the opportunity was there. When done well, the people who do it are usually seen as high performers making a positive impact on the organization as well as its people.  When done poorly, the result is a person who is seen as over-reaching, underperforming and / or not a team player.

In order to successfully expand your role, you must have a robust sense of situational awareness as well as a strong work ethic.  I’ve found that those who do it well are hyper-aware of their own role and influence, gaps between strategy and execution, team dynamics and what success looks like.  In addition, they’re willing to do the role they’ve been hired for, proactively enhancing their own knowledge and skillset, pursuing synergies that may not be obvious and driving toward repeatable processes.  On the flip-side, those who do it poorly inevitably look to expand their influence either without the team’s success as a guide or they try to do it without taking care of the core responsibilities they were given in the first place.  I’ve also seen people with impressive titles who aren’t actually playing a role, rather they simply exist, or at worst, consume resources without contributing.

We need those that are adept at role expansion because of the reality that no organization can plan for every eventuality.  There will always be gaps and / or opportunities to improve and it’s those leaders, even if they don’t have a corresponding title or formal position, who recognize this and bring awareness and work ethic to it, that become indispensable.  They go above and beyond and everyone around them is better off for it.  Those are the people I enjoy working with.

Special thanks to Aaron Fulk, who despite “not being a business person” (her words to me) creates business success for those she works with, and to RaeAnn Handshy, an impressive role-expander with the best interest of the company as her motivation.

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