There’s much talk about having a seat at the table in corporate America and in higher education. I have learned that some want that seat because they have a desire to serve a broader range of constituents. Those people have a vision of collaboration that influences cultural norms and policies that improve the environment and holistic wellbeing of all invested members of the organization or institution. Others pursue that seat in an effort to control the community dialogue with the objective of a directional shift of the narrative sharply on a new course. Finally, I have encountered that seat chaser who just revels in the sense of accomplishment and perceived power that comes with rising to a higher step on the proverbial ladder.
Regardless of the motive or the journey to that seat, some things become your reality when you take ownership of that seat:
- There is an expectation that you will find a way to work within the current policies to accomplish the mission and vision of the organization.
- The team will be more productive when you willingly contribute to skill sets that compliment the whole and donate information you learned through prior training or life experiences in pursuit of the mission, values, and goals of the group.
- Bring a spirit of servitude that enables you to equally be comfortable taking direction from others and taking ownership of your role as leader, when needed.
- Stay thirsty for development and hungry for knowledge. In your wisdom, you will find strength to operate with a sense of urgency to get the team closer to the fulfillment of at least one goal.
- Flexibility is key when you sit in “that seat.” Stay up on your neck stretches so that you can move your head back and forth as if to say, “Oh, I see. What an interesting concept.” On the other hand, make your eyes and eyebrows less mobile at the table. Eye rolling and involuntary raising of eyebrows may prohibit you from obtaining intel that may be valuable in your work. The same is true for too much jaw flapping. You will need to exercise your mental capacity and heart string in order to hear the potential harnessed within the words spoken by those with differing viewpoints who sit at the table. You will need controlled pliability to gauge when there are irreconcilable difference and when those difference of belief or interpretation can be reconciled in a manner that respects the integrity of the shared philosophy.
In the last six months, I learned that seat I sought at a leadership table. Every week, I have moments that consume me with gratitude. There are other moments that use my shoulders as the foundation for a wall of sandbags being dropped one at a time in anticipation of rushing flood waters. This week the price paid for sitting in that seat was an expenditure of mental energy as well as human and other capital. That seat has been life altering for me, personally and professionally, teaching me to take breaks from the table. This week I learned that when you do too much sitting it can result in tight hamstrings and foot cramps. Therefore, when you earn that seat at the table, don’t forget to stretch!