What's my role? (Choose carefully!)

4 February 2014 - 4:44pm
King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, by Michel Gantelet

This is Part 2 of a series of five planned posts on how to thrive through the busy-ness and chaos that 2014 will bring by being more conscious of how we contribute —to ‘the mess’ … and the solutions. Here’s a link to Part 1: ‘Being clear on purpose’ in case you missed it.
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The second area worth paying attention to is: ‘What role is required of me by the ‘system’ to make progress?’

Do not worry about holding high position; worry rather about playing your proper role.
—Confucius

Carefully choosing and taking up a role is not just the business of stage or film actors. To be successful in any ‘system’ we need to act with understanding about the role we are taking up—and I’m not talking about the position we occupy, or our job description.

At Social Leadership Australia when we talk of the ideal ‘role’, we are referring to the conscious action we take in the moment that helps serve the purpose of the discussion / meeting / task or whatever it is you are working on. This means asking yourself (and others), “What role would be most useful right now?”

Roles are fluid. In their book The Australian Leadership Paradox, my colleagues Liz and Geoff explore how roles can be linked to formal positions (like ‘boss’ or ‘parent’)  and also how other roles are more informal—like ‘critic’, ‘peacemaker’ or ‘bully’. Some are more permanent and some are transient—on any given day we cycle through many different roles depending on the situation.

Most often we take roles almost instantly, and unconsciously. But if we find ourselves in the same role time and again—for example, if we are always ‘the quiet one’ or ‘the black hat’ in meetings—it’s worth asking if this is truly helpful in serving the purpose. Taking a different role, even just temporarily, may just be the necessary stimulus to move the project in the direction that’s needed. Remember, ‘you’ are not ‘your role’.

Years ago, as a fledgling manager, I recalled being somewhat proud that I was often the one to challenge the status quo. I saw my role as being the one who pounced on and challenged things in meetings. I remember being asked by a colleague after a meeting one day why I was so cynical, given my relatively short tenure as a manager. “Cynical?”, “Who? Me?” I certainly didn’t see myself as that but clearly the role I gravitated toward was viewed that way. With the benefit of hindsight I now see how unhelpful continually taking that role can be. And yes, it makes me cringe a little—well a lot. I wonder how much more helpful I could have been, and how much more purposeful the meetings, if I’d taken a different role? Don’t get me wrong, sometimes there is a need for this role. The key is being consciously aware of which role will serve our purpose right now.

Consciously pausing to ensure we are taking action that serves the purpose can have a powerful impact. Finding, making and taking roles effectively is a constant and disciplined process and can be made easier as we continually orient ourselves to the purpose of what we’re working on.
So before you get trapped in the ‘busy being busy’ roundabout, take a moment to reflect on what role/s you often find yourself in or gravitate toward. When you’re in the thick of ‘it’, practice pausing and, with the purpose of your task in mind, ask yourself, “What role would best serve that purpose  right now?” It may be quite different to what you would normally do.

With greater consciousness that ‘role’ means ‘taking action to serve the purpose’ on the front of our minds, what extraordinary things are you going to do today and throughout 2014?

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Interested in learning more about how you can become a better leader? Our four-day Introduction to Adaptive Leadership in Brisbane on 18-21 March 2014 and Sydney on 8-11 April 2014 is now open for applications.