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Your Seat At The Table

leadership Jan 28, 2022
Today I want to talk about getting your seat at the table. I was working with a client the middle of last week and then I got asked a question on Friday along the same theme topic, both were about the seat at the table.
Both women have a lot of responsibility in their roles and they both manage large teams. They've both got big budget responsibility. They seem to be very well respected by colleagues and peers. They both do a good job (I’d say they both do a brilliant job). And they both help people from outside of their organisations with other things. They both act as a mentor for women in similar roles in different organisations helping them to grow and develop. And they've both been recognised for all of this.
Both of them however feel that they are underpaid and undervalued. Some of the people that they're both helping in other organisations have bigger roles than them and bigger job titles than them and much bigger salaries than them and they both want the next role. They want to get to the next level. They really want that seat at the table. They're one position away from having this top spot and it's becoming apparent that this spot may soon be available for them both in their respective organisations.
And yet, they're feeling like this, that although they want the roles, the roles don’t feel like the right fit.
So they're talking about how do they change in order to fit the role? My initial response is why should you be the one that has to change if you're that well thought of and that well respected? Why do you think you'd need to change to be able to get that role? And we started to explore it.
There have begun to be some conversations of what the expectations in these roles will be. How they be expected to behave and be seen and to talk and communicate and make decisions within this role. My client feels that this is preparation, that she’s being told that these are the things that “we expect to see you doing differently in order to have this role”. And of course, we can all grow, we can all develop.
But from her perspective, some of the things that she's been told to change are actually very personal. They're part of her personality. They're part of who she is. And she’s been good enough until now. Her skills and attributes have been good enough up to now. And yet, all of a sudden, it's like “well, yeah, we don't those parts of you. If you come to the Exec table we don't want these parts of you. If you come to the table you've got to be a bit more this and you got to be a bit more that”.
And we explored in our conversation what the existing top table looks and feels like at the minute, and what it looks and feels like at the minute is lacking in diversity. Everyone is the same. And it feels that everybody on that board are very similar in terms of their backgrounds and their approach and their thinking. And as we continued to explore this, it felt more like “we want you as long as you can fit in with us. As long as you can put up with us as we are and do everything our way. Then, you know the the empty seat might be yours when it when it becomes empty. So we'd like you to fill it as long as you could be more like us.”
This isn't uncommon for a lot of the women that I work with. From my personal experience I made the decision to leave my corporate role for a number of different reasons. And I think again, with the journey that I've been on in terms of my own self-discovery and my own learning about myself, I don't think I was ever really meant to fit in an organisation I do think I'm much better fit, a perfect Fit for what I do now.
I've always been a big picture person, I will see things from a bigger perspective. A lot of the Execs around that table that I was sitting at, were only interested in themselves. And I couldn't have started to become more selfish. I don't think there's any way possible that I could suddenly start to focus on a silo and only my part of the business it's just not part of my makeup. And a lot of other people at that table were not prepared to do that.
If I had decided at that point that I wanted to stay in corporate, it definitely wouldn't have been with that organisation. I would have needed to move on.
There's nothing wrong with having ambition. Absolutely not. There's nothing wrong with been driven. Absolutely not. There's nothing wrong with wanting to get to the top table. Absolutely not. And if you've got the skills and the experience and the attributes to be able to do it, why shouldn't that seat be yours?
But I want you to consider, that just because that seat is about to become vacant or is vacant, it doesn't mean that that's the right chair for you. And sometimes that can be a really hard realisation because we think “I've stuck it out for so long in this business to get to that level.”
I think sometimes we don't want to admit to ourselves that we don't want it anymore or that it’s the wrong fit. Because if we suddenly start to think “I don't want it anymore” I'm not saying we don't want the seat but maybe it's not right within that particular organisation. But it's almost like we start to think if I don't get it here, everything in the run up to this, like everything you’ve been doing for the last however many months or years it will all have been for nothing. It will have been a waste. Absolutely not.
But if it doesn't feel right or if you are being told that you have to fit a mould, particularly if that mould is outdated and the wrong shape and the wrong size, there's absolutely no reason that you should be the one that has to shave off parts of you in order to fill that gap because the gap, the empty chair just maybe isn't the fit for you.
It might be in a different organisation. It might be at a different time. It might be if other changes are made at that board table. Then it's absolutely the right fit for you. That doesn't mean that you're not capable. That doesn't mean that you're not able, and it doesn't mean that you're absolutely not right for it. Sometimes it's just not the right fit.
I got to the point where I was looking for new clothes (I talk about clothes a lot don't I!), I wanted them in a particular style and I wanted them in a particular colour. I couldn't find it anywhere. I could have tried to fit into stuff that I could just buy off the high street but it wouldn't have felt like the right the fit for me and what I want. So I made the decision that actually I was going to have some clothes tailor made. I want them in my colour. I want them in my style and I want them in my size. And that's what I did. I invested in a tailor in a local town to me, and I've started to have some clothes made, perfect fit.
I don't need to change anything about me to look good in the clothes that I wear. My clients that I mentioned, do not need to change anything about them to fit into that top table and into that empty chair. It may just be that that chair in that organisation isn't the right fit for them. That's the high street chair that maybe everybody else might be able to fit into, but they shouldn't have to go shaving parts off of themselves in order to fit in that chair. Maybe there is a bespoke fitted chair for them in another organisation or in another sector that is the perfect fit.
But just because they've been trying to squeeze into the high street outfits for the last five or 10 years and think well it's kind of the right fit, that, they’ve now got to be less than who they are to make the seat at the table fit.
Actually what we need from every single one of the people at every single top table in every single organisation for the good of the people, is that we need people that are prepared to stand up and be themselves, not that fit a leadership model that's out of date. We need more leaders that are prepared to bring their be their true self.
So if you're being told even before that chair is vacant “if you want it these are the changes that we need to see from you, we need you to tweak a little bit more when you should just squeeze a little bit more” then it’s not the right chair.
And even if you think “well I'm gonna I'll fit in it for now. I'll do what they're asking of me now. So that when I’m in it, then I can start to bring more of myself”, I think that's only going to start to cause you issues as well. Because you'll fight even more backlash, then they’ll be like “well, you know, we weren't seeing this from you six months ago. This is now inappropriate for you to be doing. We know, we appreciate that you’ve still got some development we appreciate that you’ve still got some growth but this is what we are expecting of you. This is the line that we expect you to be towing. This is the stance that we expect you to be taking. This is how we expect you to be speaking and thinking and behaving and you are now stepping out of these lines.”
Now if you're able to influence at the right level, perhaps you can influence more of the people at that table to be a bit more like you. But it's probably unlikely if everybody else around that table is established and has been there for a while and has absolutely no intention of changing, it’s going to make it impossible for you and again, this doesn't mean that you're not capable of being in the role in the role at that level. But maybe you don't want to be squeezing yourself into the high street outfits anymore. Maybe you need something that is more bespoke. Maybe you need to start thinking about which organisations which sectors do you want to be working with? Maybe you need to start widening your network a bit and having conversations with people at the level that you now want to go into. Maybe you want some coffees or some dinners or some walks around the lake with people in different organisations in the role that you want to go into and talk about and share the difference between having to squeeze in to fit. Knowing when the fit is just right, knowing when it's the fit just for you is vital at the top table.
Another client that I was working with last year, she’d been doing consultancy for 18 months and had thought that this was the route that she wanted to go down so she left a corporate role went into consultancy and was then contacted a few months back about a vacancy that had come up within an organisation that she loved. She'd done some work with them a short while ago and when she was contacted about this role it was as though it had been created just for her. It was a perfect fit for her, she said yes and she’s just started.
I remember one of my very first clients back in 2014 who was very clear on the type of role that she wanted, the type of organisation that she wanted, and the salary that she wanted. And these roles really weren't around a huge amount then, but she got so clear that the two of us created her ideal role list. As she started reaching out to people within these organisations to say “this is how I think this could add value, and this is why I want to work with you” and she got into her ideal role with one of her ideal companies on her ideal salary. She created her own chair and I know women that are doing this in lots of different organisations.
And sometimes women are realising that they don't want the seat that they thought they wanted so they’ve started creating seats for themselves. The right roles and opportunities are available for you. As you are enough, exactly as you are, for the right role. You are enough for the right organisation. You are enough for the right chair. You don't have to shave any bits of you off you don't have to be moulded to fit you don't have to be less than you are. And when you are clear on who you are at the core and what you can add to the role you will no longer accept anybody telling you that you have to change or be less than who you are in order to fit into the chair that's becoming available.
Whether it's dating, whether we're looking for our ideal homes, whether we're looking for ideal partners, whether we're looking for our ideal car or whatever, I think sometimes, that we settle for jobs much quicker than we do other things in our lives. If you're house hunting, if it's the wrong location or it's the wrong size, or it needs too much work doing to it, or the neighbours seen terrible or the area doesn't seem particularly right or there's not enough driveway space or garden space or there's not a home office, whatever your non-negotiables are, and I get that sometimes we need to compromise, when we start to look for our next role, or we look for our next promotion, we settle for less.
It's as though sometimes we kind of get a sense that “well if I don't take this job, I might not get another one. If I don't take this opportunity. I might have to stay where I am if I don't take this opportunity. I may never get another job again”.
Would you say that about houses? Would you say that about holidays? Or would you pay for a holiday that hasn't ticked all of your boxes? That might just be two weeks somewhere, but you’re not going to settle because you’ve got your heart set on something and yet sometimes when it comes for jobs, something that we're going to be in, day in and day out for months or years, you compromise because you worry that there won't be another opportunity coming up.
I know that with everything that's been happening over the last couple of years that there is some level of uncertainty. But if you've got your non negotiables if you are really clear on who you are at the core, you won't settle for less. You won't settle for the job that's not going to give you the fulfilment and the pride and everything that you want it to give you.
You won't settle for anything less. Are you going to say yes to a job that pays you what you want to pay for that make you miserable every day? I hope not. You're going to settle for a job that isn't the wrong location? A job that’s not going to give you the greatest development is not going to give you the fulfilment and may not be paying your ideal salary just because you think well you know I could just really do with a job right now?
I get sometimes you may have to settle. We've all got bills to pay. We've all got to put food on the table. You don't have to stay in a job that's not giving you the fulfilment that you need. You don't have to keep pushing for the same internal job waiting for that next promotion waiting for that person to leave so you can fill that spot. If the organisation is not giving you what you need if the role is not giving you what you need, if it's not fulfilling you financially, mentally, emotionally, physically, it's not giving you what you need. The chair is not the right fit is your time to get what you need.
It's your time to make the decisions that are right for you. It’s your time to stop settling. And if that means trying to create the right role within the right organisation then try and create the right role within the right organisation and show them why you are worthy of that role.
Show them why you are worthy of being considered show them why you are worthy of taking that chair.
But don't settle.
If something is not feeling right, it's probably not right.
And that's okay, it doesn't mean you failed and it doesn't mean you're not the right fit for anything, it just means that chair is not the right fit for you.
Tap into that core part of you. Now is the time to be Core-Led. Now is the time to make these decisions from your core. You don't want to go into a role that you know is wrong from the offset. You wouldn't uproot and move into the wrong house just to say you’ve given it a go. If it's genuinely going to give you the learning opportunity that you need and it feels right, go for it. I'm not saying don't do it. But does it feel right?
The right chair is out there and you’ll know it when you find it. Don’t be less than you are to fit something tailor made for someone else.

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