Leaders create new opportunities

In an article yesterday at hbr.org discussing why people quit their jobs, there is a story about an employee named Chase. His story illustrates a point I make with staff and leaders everywhere – that leaders create new opportunities and roles that make the most of a person’s talents, rather than trying to fit people into pre-existing roles. 

Smart managers create opportunities for people to use their strengths. To see how that can play out, let’s consider Chase, who was recently working as a software engineer at Instagram. About six months ago, when his team went through rapid product iteration to introduce new tools and formats, Chase helped lead the team to exceptional results. But he finished the project drained from the extensive coding and cross-functional work — and started wondering whether there were other ways to contribute. Talking with his manager, Lu, he realized that while he had a strong technical background, where he really excelled was building prototypes to help prove concepts quickly and then iterating. But Instagram didn’t have any roles that blended this skill set, and Chase didn’t have a track record in traditional design work.

Lu convinced the design team to take a risk and allow Chase to try a new role for a “hackamonth.” During that time, Chase partnered with Ryan, a product design lead, to quickly build several prototypes that tested novel ways of capturing and sharing. His success not only landed him in a brand-new role that leveraged his strengths but also created the conditions to build a broader team of collaborators with similar skills and interests. According to Lu, “A shift to this role was a no-brainer for Chase and a win for Instagram. All that was missing was the push to make this happen.”

Almost every single person on my relatively new team at Liquid Web is doing something they’ve done before, and at the same time, something they’ve never done before. I didn’t start with a set of roles defined for my new product team. Instead, I recruited staff and created the roles that would both deliver immediate value to the organization while also challenge and develop each of the folks I was recruiting.

The challenge – the part of the job they weren’t sure they could handle – gave them each a bit of fear, but far more excitement and interest, which overcame the fear.

In the end, the way we define roles these days often does our staff, ourselves and our organizations a disservice.

Leaders create new opportunities.

And when they do it right, there is energy in the air. People are excited to learn. To try new things. And to succeed in new ways.