I recently saw a poster that read, “Don’t judge me by my past, I don’t live there anymore.” I’m not sure who came up with the quote, but it got me thinking about how often we freeze others at a point in time, and then interact with them that way from that point on.
This happened with me less than a year ago with my daughter. We were spending Thanksgiving together at Mount Shasta in Northern California. I was still seeing her as the rebellious teenager who had stubbornly tried to get her way (and usually did) and acted that way toward her in our conversations.
On our last day when we were driving back, she finally got fed up with Dad treating her like she was still a teenager and asked me what for. Even then, it took me a while to hear what she was saying, that I was judging her by her past and not seeing who she had become. She has grown into a beautiful, giving, mature, self-sufficient woman of almost 25 years old. In that moment, I realized she was no longer the willful teen from years gone by.
In the entertainment world, they call this typecasting. Once an actor is typecast, how can they emerge beyond that role to be seen in a different way? This can be a major development challenge for learning leaders as well. Too often, we’re viewed as trainers rather than enterprise leaders. While others across our organizations grow into their leadership roles and are viewed as having broader impact, we tend to be considered with a much narrower focus. They used to call me “the learning guy.”
Breaking out of that pre-existing mold to take your rightful place as an enterprise leader is actually easier than you think.
Start by engaging a coach to get the buzz on you from across the organization to see how you are currently viewed. Or participate in a 360-assessment, Personally, I would go with the coach idea. Armed with others’ perceptions, begin your journey toward being viewed as an enterprise leader by creating a “start, stop, continue” list. Use it to identify the areas you will start, stop and continue to help your key stakeholders change their perceptions about you.
When completing your list, make sure you include these three items:
1. Start speaking up during business discussions. Take a position on business issues that goes well beyond the learning role you are in. To be seen as an enterprise leader, act like one. At first your fellow leaders may try to reposition you as simply “the learning guy,” but don’t let them.
2. Stop relating business issues to learning solutions or opportunities to sell learning. Take the information back to your team and let others do it, not you. As an enterprise leader, you want other leaders to view you as a peer in all business discussions, the same way they see themselves.
3. Continue being a brand ambassador for learning. Just as you want all leaders in your organization to be brand ambassadors for learning you should be too. That said, when in doubt, refer to Nos. 1 and 2.
The rest of your list depends on two things. First, how do you want to be seen in the organization, and second, how you are currently perceived by other leaders? How will you let people know you no longer want to be typecast as just a learning leader? The plan you create needs to appropriately convey this very simple, yet profound message: “Don’t judge me by my past, I don’t live there anymore.”
Have you broken out of the mold? What steps did you take? What worked and what didn’t? Share them so we can all learn from each other.