All of us have different roles within different contexts. You might be a leader in one context and a follower in another, the CEO in one world and a worker bee in another; the big-picture person in one universe and the bean counter analyst in another. Although we are often defined by our roles, they are not the only things that define us. How we approach our roles is equally if not more important to what defines us.
Perhaps one of the most important aspects about our roles is knowing what our best role is in any given situation. If you step into the wrong role, then bad things can happen. If you are in the right role but at the wrong time, then bad things can happen. But if you can step into the right role at the right time in the right way, then marvelous things can happen.
Knowing your best role can be tricky. We don’t always want to face up to painful or embarrassing truths about ourselves. However, failure to do so can rob us of the success we genuinely desire. The winning combination materializes when we understand our best role and we can enter into it at the right time and in the right way. The proverbial “now is the time” declaration rings true.
In looking at tech entrepreneurs, we find that some of them struggled with finding their best role or the right timing for that role. Some did not want to admit that the role or the timing may not be right as Austin Carr explains (“Uber’s Driving Lessons: What the Fastest-growing Startup in History Has Revealed about Silicon Valley” FastCompany. September 2017, pp. 25–27):
“Steeped in a tradition dating back to Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard creating HP in their Palo Alto garage, tech entrepreneurs are taught that they are the true innovators. And anyone who gets in their way (boards, investors, bureaucrats) is shortsighted, the small-minded naysayers to visionaries like Steve Jobs. So founders today hold tightly to control, leveraging their super voting shares to tilt power away from boards or investors.” (p. 27)
Situations can arise in which the tech entrepreneur is right and everyone else is wrong—or it could be the opposite. However, the reality is not usually quite that simple. More often the truth is somewhere in the middle. To whatever extent both sides can consider that “middle” we have opportunity for growth. The circumstances could lead to a personal, professional, and leadership growth experience for everyone. And sometimes that means paradoxically the best way to fulfill your role is to sacrifice your role. Carr clarifies:
“The reality is, sacrificing the CEO title can be in the best interests of both the company and its founder. Larry Page and Sergey Brin stepped aside so longtime tech executive Eric Schmidt could steer Google through its IPO during the 2000s. Page studied under Schmidt for roughly a decade before taking back the reins. Jobs, too, took nearly this same amount of time to mature as a CEO before returning to Apple.”
Whatever your role might be, what is most important is that you recognize it and that you choose to use it at the right time and in the right way. This is how we maximize our value to our organization, colleagues, customers, and ourselves. Know your best role.