As we enter a new year, I’d like to kick things off by proposing a new way of thinking about leadership development for individual contributors. I often find myself in conversations with people who struggle to think of themselves as leaders when they have no direct reports.
In my opinion, the best leaders see Supporting Lines, not Reporting Lines when they look at an organizational chart. If we take that idea further, individual contributors can focus on opportunities to demonstrate leadership to their ‘direct supports’. Even at the earliest stages of your career, you have direct supports that need your guidance and direction to achieve their desired outcomes. These people can be inside your team or elsewhere in the organization. They can even extend to people beyond your organization.
Consider the individual contributor who builds business cases for customers. The primary internal direct supports include the account executive (needs a solid business case to help sign the customer) and the customer success manager (wants to set a customer up for success by ensuring the benchmark for metrics is achievable and trackable). This person’s direct supports may also extend to the customer, including the customer’s procurement lead (wants to validate the business case before purchasing) and the customer champion or initiative owner (expects to be held accountable for the success of the project).
In this context, true leadership will separate high performers and their legion of ecstatic direct supports from those who are just doing the baseline job. It also provides opportunities to lead with influence instead of a reporting line, the hardest form of leadership. This key shift in mindset helps prepare high performing individual contributors for a transition to a future team lead role.
Who are your most important direct supports? How might your leadership and support help them achieve better outcomes in 2018?