April 2011

Three Feet From Gold - Book Cover Image of Todd Herman

How well do you fit your position? Or, stated differently, how well does your position fit you? At the end of the day, do you find yourself energized or worn out? Are you playing to your strengths, or working to overcome your weaknesses?

Those are some of the questions which came to mind as I read the "Opportunities" chapter in Three Feet from Gold: Turn Your Obstacles into Opportunities! by Sharon L. Lechter and Greg S. Reid. This book consists of real-life interviews with successful leaders and business persons, woven around a semi-autobiographical story. And a key business person featured in this chapter was the Triad's own Joe Dudley, co-founder, president, and CEO of Dudley Products. The interview with Joe included the following incredible segment:

"In today's marketplace, a person must make his own job. We can no longer count on other people to care for us. You need to create the position that is just right for you. Be a job-maker, not a job-taker." (page 131)

How very true! We have all seen people who seem so much larger than their job description – who have taken a very ordinary position on the organization chart and made it unmistakably their own. The problem? We've all seen the flipside, too – people who seem ill-suited to their position, who are constantly worn out because they are not using their strengths in their jobs. Read about how top performers handle irreconcilables.

Finding the Right Position

I used to be one of those people. When I worked at Arthur Andersen & Co., I was always quite good at what I did – yet I could never find the exact right position for myself. My solution? Start my own firm and create my own position.

Now, I fully recognize the route I took is not available to many people, and it was available to me only because several events all came together at just the right time – in fact, that option would not be available to me today. Nonetheless, I believe Joe Dudley's words are great advice to all people, regardless of position and life circumstances.

To help frame the following discussion, let's consider two terms which seem synonymous, but are actually worlds apart in meaning:

  • Authority – This is the right or power to expend resources, such as money and effort. A supervisor has authority over a subordinate. The CEO has authority over the entire organization. Authority focuses on input, control, and effort – what receives time and attention.
  • Accountability – I like this definition of accountability from author and consultant Linda Galindo in her book, The 85% Solution: How Personal Accountability Guarantees Success-No Nonsense, No Excuses – "A personal willingness, after-the-fact, to answer for outcomes produced, whether good or bad." That last phrase "whether good or bad" really drives home the point. It's easy to be accountable for good results. It causes butterflies in the stomach to be accountable for bad results. Accountability is always and only personal – it can never be imposed, and it can never be shared. Anyone can choose to be accountable – or not. Accountability can be requested of a subordinate by a supervisor, but only the subordinate can choose to accept the request and be accountable. Accountability focuses on output, fulfillment, and results – what got done, given the time and attention devoted to things.

A job-taker complies with authority, but avoids accountability. Such a person may sound like this in a performance review – "You know, boss, I tried really hard this year, but things just kept getting in my way. I wish I had better news to report."

Authority & Accountability

In contrast, a job-maker complies with – or at least tolerates – authority, but fully embraces accountability. A performance review might go like this – "You know, boss, this was a really challenging year. Issues came at me left and right – and I always did my best to compensate for them or adapt to them. And that's why I feel especially good talking with you – not only did I get all my key projects done, I did so despite many challenges along the way."

The first person is at risk in today's marketplace – restructurings flatten organization charts, technology automates low-value tasks, and cost reduction projects frequently lead to outsourcing and offshoring. The second person, while not completely immune to marketplace changes, will always be better situated to find another position, should the current one be eliminated.

And even if that successor position is not an ideal fit for the job-maker, such a person will mold the position to fit his or her unique strengths. The job-maker will work hard to develop his or her strengths to their fullest, delegate or trade-off tasks not aligned with those strengths, and get clear on performance evaluation criteria. Here are 21 ways to be indispensable in your organization.

How well have you shaped your position to fit you? Are you a job-taker, or a job-maker?

Todd L. Herman

Todd L. Herman