In Practice: Being Your Own Expression

Contributed by Fully Alive in Practice

Writing a job description let me define how I can best add my value

You advised Exceptional One that they need to stop chasing the ball their Boss is throwing and know how to be one’s own expression. 

And, I really felt their pain. 

I mean, I’ve also wanted to be promoted. For years, I delivered results, exceeding the goals. That has meant missing kid’s events or shortened family vacations and all sorts of tradeoffs to be “the best.” My annual reviews have always been great; feedback from my peers and teams shows that people trust me and like working with me. My boss called me “the soul” of the team. And I even received an award from company founders. 

Yet, it hurts to say it: I stayed at the same operational level for well over a decade. I was stuck. 

And while I’ve done a bunch of things to make progress (changing jobs by changing companies, doing informational interviews, getting sponsorship from executives, joining a peer executive group, and so on), there was one thing that definitively made a shift for me. 

And that’s what I want to share via this In Practice column. 

Here it is in a nutshell. Instead of tuning my resume to job descriptions, I decided to write my own job description for the role I want. 

At first, that doesn’t sound like a big deal but let me share how it changed things. 

After I wrote it? I sent it to people. And one of those people is flying me out for an interview soon for a role custom created for me, based on this job description. And while I don’t know the outcome of this process, if it’ll get me to the “next level,” what I do know is this process has let me become clearer about what I can do and why it matters. 

So in case, it’s helpful to your readers, let me share exactly how I thought about it? 

1. I wrote about the level at which I operate. I have worked on project teams, product teams, on company-wide projects, and for company-wide strategy. (I’ve never worked on anything that reshaped an industry.)  And so, as I thought about what level I wanted to operate, it was less about a title or rank but more about the scope of work I wanted to do, how I love to be the #2 for a visionary leader. I took this 5E test, which helped me see that my gift is in enrolling people and creating execution. I used to see myself as being somehow less than because most leaders I know and are promoted were strong at envisioning. Since I wasn’t strong at envisioning, I used to be like, oh, I’m not good at this. But when I wrote this job description, I thought about what I do well. That I know a good vision when I see it, and I can easily operationalize it. So I wrote that down. Before this process, I used to say things like, “well, I’m not a good visionary, so I wouldn’t be a good XYZ leader” This time, I thought of what I brought as “good” and then how it’s best used. It’s quite a flip of a process.  

(editorial note from Nilofer; this flipping process is so crucial, it centers correctly. We’re so used to job searches where we try and prove we can do what they ask, but what about asking, is this the highest and best use of me!? Turn the beat around 💃🏽.)

2. I really made sure I communicated what I’m best at. I had already done the Onlyness Canvas work, so I knew my gift was to turn chaos into clarity. I’m the kind of person who walks in and learns what isn’t working, and then I break down the parts and the players into what needs to happen for better revenue-generating outcomes. Sometimes, non-operational leaders have characterized my skills as “herding cats,” which seems really tactical. It wasn’t until I captured what I do exceptionally well and almost without effort that I tell the story of how and where this adds value. So I wrote a few paragraphs about that. And how that related to what I’ve done in the past and what I wanted to, aspired to do. 

(editorial note from Nilofer: the Onlyness Canvas is free to download here.)

3. I used to look at what other exec types did and then think, oh, I don’t do that, can’t do that. For example, the fact that I didn’t excel at financial spreadsheets made me think I was less than. I mean, most of the executives I saw get promoted were way more quantitative than me. So I started to think execs = quant = not me = means I’m not an executive. But when I flipped the conversation to center my own Onlyness, I thought of what I naturally do. I mean, my boss had already told me. “Soul of the team.” I enable a healthy work culture. How most leaders need to value the culture because that’s how good work gets done. And so, I could now see that the lack of executives who get culture is what we’re missing. 

(editorial from Nilofer: the things we do naturally, maybe even easily can be a good clue to how we can best add value. But we often discount it. I remember my step-daughter graduating from UCB with a double major in physics and astrophysics, and something like a 4.5 GPA. !! After she got into several graduate schools, where they would pay her to study physics, she dismissed her capabilities. She said, “if I could do it, anyone could.”  Hiding that eye roll was haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaard work. I thought of her when I wrote this about, you need to love what you love.  )

4. Now, I couldn’t have written this job description without having done prior work. The sponsor conversations. The leadership courses, etc. I leveraged all the past feedback about my strengths and development areas, nuggets of insights I got from various discussions with friends, family, colleagues, mentors, re-looked at personality and strengths assessments (MBTI, Strengthsfinder, Insights Discovery, 5E, etc.), pulled up articles I read, job descriptions I’d saved, and kept what I liked and left the rest behind.  It probably took me 2 hours to write it over the course of a few quiet sessions. I then sent it to people who know me well to try and see if there were any big blind spots I wasn’t noticing. One friend pointed out that I hadn’t captured that I was already good at leading teams. Another friend pointed out that I was overstating something, which helped me be more specific. It took real creative time.

(editorial note from Nilofer: no matter where you start, this practice could work becuase it would help you name your own capacities. And what if you don’t know? That’s okay, too. Having a clearer question helps you find your answer(s).)

5. The job description wasn’t just what I could do today. I didn’t limit the scope of it to what I already knew I could do. I just thought that would be a little boring. So I wrote the job description that would excite me and use my capacities well. It’s been a long journey to get to this job description. Maybe by sharing this practice, it’ll help someone else shorten their curve!

(Final editorial note, I thought this final point was SUPER interesting, because, of course, none of us want to take jobs where we aren’t growing. This design process = being oneself, becoming more oneself.)

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