Harvard professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter reveals how efforts that go above and beyond can land you in the C-suite
Posted on Harvard Business Review: October 18, 2010 11:39 AM
When Ann Moore was on her way to becoming CEO of Time Inc., before women were found in top management ranks, she won loyalty by, among other things, spreading a perquisite of her magazine publisher job to peers and subordinates: preferred seats at the best sporting events in New York. Across the Atlantic, Maurice Levy was appointed CEO of Publicis while still a junior employee, in part because of his fervent commitment when the headquarters in Paris caught on fire, and he ran into the offices to rescue client files.
High achievers don't turn into leaders, even if they seem to have the right skills, without the power that comes from going beyond the letter of the job and doing what I've come to call the Extras. Here are my top six.
1. Colleagueship. Being a good colleague means helping the entire group achieve results even when you're not in charge—for example, by filling in for an absent co-worker, showing up at a special event that's not required, or pitching in with ideas and information for someone else's project. This factor, intangible as it seems, is written into the formal standards for promotion at my own institution, Harvard Business School. Colleagueship is considered a sign of whether someone can take on bigger leadership responsibilities in a flat, decentralized organization.
2. Opening doors. Power to the connectors! Those who rise to leadership keep their virtual Rolodex rolling. They know enough about others to spot something of interest to them and pass it on, opening doors or making key introductions. In the new networked companies, connectors are the go-to people, the must-haves at meetings. The effects are viral. The more they connect, the more connections come to them.
3. Extra resources. Being a giver is powerful, especially when the gift is unexpected. Sprinkling small amounts of money or opportunities around the organization can build enormous goodwill. Please note that I certainly don't mean bribery or crossing any ethical lines—never! But anyone who has control over some resources can find legitimate, task-oriented ways to share them—for example, funding dinners for a hard-working project team or providing seed money for expenses for promising innovations. Using personal resources can matter even more, such as donations to co-workers' favorite charities.
4. Framing issues. Being the first to name an issue shows leadership. One big Extra in any endeavor is to identify new opportunities or unsolved problems, and then convene conversations around them. With self-organizing now a major operating mode, the people who set the agenda also set themselves up as potential leaders. It's not necessary to ask anyone's permission to lead; the self-organizers just do it.
5. Strong commitment. Some people falsely equate commitment with hours worked. But commitment is about quality, not quantity. This Extra involves the verve or passion which potential leaders convey about the mission and the singular focus they exhibit when doing each piece of work. Other people want to be led by committed leaders, not those whose eyes are always on another project or who make it clear that other parts of their lives matter more to them.
6. External diplomacy. Civic boards or non-profit causes can groom leaders, and even more so if one's own organization has an interest in the cause. Joining professional associations or industry networks and carrying information back and forth to and from the home team can also build internal power. Being a good ambassador externally reverberates internally.
Extras serve as signs of whether a person can be entrusted with major decisions or control over assets that requires doing what needs to be done regardless of formal requirements. They show that the leader will take care of others and the organization.
At the same time, Extras carry a tinge of unfairness. Extras can be tapped more readily from jobs with discretionary budgets, or that face outward, toward clients and customers. In contrast, people holding more routinized, internally-facing jobs have fewer automatic chances to show leadership. That group often includes women, who are disproportionately concentrated in staff jobs such as the Ps of personnel, public relations, and purchasing. Moreover, women who might be time-constrained by family obligations don't always have the time for Extras.
But not every Extra is out of the reach of determined potential leaders. Commitment and colleagueship are largely under individuals' control, and they build a better work community for everyone.
If the why and how of Extras can be discussed more openly, perhaps they can become more universally attainable. So consider this list both a How-To guide and a manifesto for change.