Permission and Imagination


If you want to advance in your career you
have to give yourself permission to not
KNOW everything and not DO everything.

And you need the imagination to do
more of what the business requires than
your job entails.

As I have been preparing for our next
monthly webinar on Avoiding Career Hazards,
I stepped back to think about what really
holds people back in their careers.

What struck me is that at the heart of most
career stalls is a fundamental issue with
permission or imagination.  This is particularly
evident in the following:

1. Your Job Description is not a life sentence

2. You need to do the job that needs to be done, not the one that is given to you.

3. You need to make yourself less busy

4. You don’t need to know everything

5. You need to do more than your job

For all of these, not only do you have permission to do them, you are expected to.  And the higher you go, these things are no longer merely expected, they become required.  You will fail if you don’t do them.

You need to recognize this and give yourself permission to do these things.  Then you need to fuel your imagination so you have the necessary ideas and insights to do even more.

1. Your Job Description is not a life sentence

People have a tendency to think their job is a combination of their job description and whatever else their boss piles on along the way. This is one of the things you need to break free of.  Your job is a contract with your company.

You have the ability to re-negotiate your contract to better suit your strengths, and your ideas about what your job should be — as long as it is good for the business.  This is how you put yourself in a position to thrive.

It is up to you to develop ideas about how to do your job even better — more efficiently, more creatively, more effectively, and push back on your boss when new requests are detrimental to achieving the critical priorities.

If you accept your job as written and just do your job, you will not stand out.  Give yourself permission to change your job description.

Which gets to the next point…

2. You need to do the job that needs to be done, not the one that is given to you.

As people step up to higher level roles, there is an outright expectation that they will not just do the job as it stands today, but that they will make the job bigger.

As an executive you are expected to understand what the business needs and raise the level of your job to deliver on where the business needs to go, not where it is today.  They didn’t hire you to just do the job, they hired you to raise the game and invent the job.

In other words, not only do you have permission change your job – that is the job!  You need  to understand what is not good enough about the status quo, and figure out how to build capability for the future.  You need to have the imagination to do this.  This is an area where having good mentors can be a big help.

3. You need to make yourself less busy

Early in your career, you get paid for your work output.  It is very much based on the time you spend working.  If you take a long lunch you are stealing from the company.

But as you advance you not getting paid for your time any more.  You are getting paid for the value that you add to the business.

And to do that you need to give yourself time to think.

You need to give yourself permission to not work on just the work every minute of the day.  You need to make time to think strategically, plan, organize, and invent.  I like to talk about this as working ON your business vs. Working IN your business.  This is your job.

Again, not only are you allowed take some time to think, you are expected to do this.  Otherwise you are not adding value, you are just doing work, and you are not doing your job as a leader.  See also: Make More Time.

You have permission to come in late, schedule some time and hide, or go for a walk to think.  You are not stealing time from the company if you are adding value working ON the business.

4. You don’t need to know everything

Another thing that holds people back as they get progressively higher roles, is that they don’t give themselves permission to not know everything.  They try to stay expert in the content.  This backfires for 4 main reasons:

1. The higher you go there is more and more content underneath you, you can’t stay as deep as your people.
2. You end up competing with your team.
3. You spend so much time on the content you fail to do the job you need to be doing adding value to the business.
4. You fail to hire smart people beneath you because they threaten you.  See also: Are you smarter than me?.

It is so important to give yourself permission to back off on being a deep content expert.  That is not your job.  See also Addiction to Detail.

Your job is to be working ON the business and finding ways to develop your team, be more efficient, innovate, negotiate for resources, plan strategically, and always focused on adding value to the business.

If you never give yourself permission to not know everything, you will get stuck.

5. You need to do more than your job

Once you give yourself permission to tune your job, create the necessary job for the future, make yourself less busy, and not know everything, here is where your imagination can really kick in so that you can take on broader initiatives outside your current responsibility and have a more strategic impact on the company.  See also: Do a bigger job.

If you want to get ahead you need to show that your reach and influence is broader than your organization, and you can create and execution things that impact the business in bigger and more strategic ways.  That is how you build relevance and get ahead.