From sweeping initiatives to mundane meetings, we're all there to unlock, propel or support the solution. We're invited to focus on one-- not all. Knowing our role (and sticking to it) increases our impact while enabling others to play their part-- not to mention avoiding confusion, frustration, and disappointment. Let's break this down a bit...
To unlock is to bring expertise to the problem, clarify the issues, and offer paths that work (or just might work). To be the unlock-er, you show up prepared-- armed with questions, with data, with anecdotes, with horror stories, whatever you need to get clear on the challenge so that you can credibly and confidently propose a solution and convince others to consider your options. The performance metric is binary. Will the solution work for now- yes or no?
To propel is to apply all the kick-off, kick-start, kick-ass project management, list-making, and inspiration skills you can muster. With conviction, your job is to move the (already agreed-upon) solution forward, generating excitement and momentum along the way. The performance metric is binary. Is the project progressing for now- yes or no?
To support is to show up, play as a team, coordinate, collaborate, and celebrate the little successes. With dedication and reliability, you embrace the processes and protocols. Like the others, the performance metric is binary. Are you getting your job done- yes or no?
We can all quickly recall occasions (probably from this morning) when role confusion created a problem-- an avoidable problem heaped on top of the original one we were there to solve. Brad is "brainstorming" and throwing out solution darts-- knowing he doesn't know what he's aiming at. Jill is sitting back waiting for someone to tell her what to do when Jo, her boss, wants her to be sketching out the milestones and dependencies. Leland fixed this same issue last month but isn't speaking up because he's new to the group. Argh. Annoying. I could go on and on with examples but I think you know what I mean.
One reason why we stumble over these roles is that they are ever-changing. Depending on the need, we're called upon to flex different skills. This is clearly easiest when you know what's expected. So, the trick for whoever is in charge is to ascertain what's needed in the moment, line up who's right for what, communicate that expectation, and go. Rinse and repeat for the next issue.
An important note is that this isn't a thing about organizational levels. In fact, further problems arise when the people in charge always try to play the unlock-er or the propel-er when they're better suited on some efforts to support.
While there certainly will be valuable contributions outside of the lines, the fastest, best way to maximize impact in your very next meeting is to clarify roles upfront and let people then do what they do best for the issue at hand.