Why is it so hard for us to articulate our value to others? I spent this past week just outside of Boston taking a course that corresponds with a role I am accountable for in my organization. The emphasis of this course in its simplest form was “How to add value.” There were four others in attendance, each representing important roles in very large organizations. The financial sector, a Japanese owned insurance firm, and healthcare were all represented.
We were all asked to introduce ourselves, give our name, title, organization, and what we hoped to get out of this course. As I listened to each person, it was clear that most people in the room assumed the level of importance of the person speaking by the title they carried. As the course went on and we all engaged in the topics and began to share our experiences as they related to the context of the chapters, a theme began to emerge. It seemed that we were all comfortable saying what we did on a daily basis, but we would hesitate when probed about the value we were bringing. For example, we found it easy to talk about what we were “responsible” for such as mergers, consolidation, or standardization. But responsibility does not directly equate to value. There was a noticeable awkwardness when we were challenged to articulate our value.
The value we bring has to exceed what we are responsible for. I am responsible for ensuring that the applications and hardware that my department supports are maintained and available for business consumption. There is value in that, but the real value I bring comes in ensuring that the right work is being conducted, by the right people, at the right time. I bring value by ensuring our portfolio is in alignment with the strategic direction of my business partners and the overall organizational vision. The day-to-day work of keeping the applications in working order is tactical management. Each member of the team has a role, and they are the ones who are actually adding value by ensuring the caring and feeding of these systems is kept up.
As the leader, I must add value beyond what the team or department is doing. This is where we have to really be cognizant of the value we bring and learn how to articulate it. The things we cannot see and touch are often referred to as the intangible. Those of you who have been in leadership roles for years can attest to the sentiment that the higher you climb the further you get away from your value being delivered in direct tangible ways. Our value is seen in how others deliver the tangible.
So this takes me back to the question I opened with. Why is it so hard for us to articulate our value to others? I can only speak from my own experience. I’ll go down to the local hardware store and buy lumber and nails. I pull out my hammer, saw, measuring tape, and square and begin to assemble a tree house. When I have used up all the materials, if I followed the plan correctly, I will have a tree house. I can touch that tree house. I can see that tree house. I can probably even smell the scent of the wood. My value is evident because without my work effort the lumber and nails would still be in the same form as when I purchased them from the store.
For most leaders, we are not building tangible value. However, as a leader, the most important thing I can do is invest in relationships. These relationships have to be with those who report up to me, my peers, and those above me. It is from those relationships that I create value. I can only see value from these relationships through action. The action I am searching to create the most as a leader is trust. In order to add value to any organization I have to be trusted.
It is much easier to walk around and show people I am valuable at building tree houses, but if my job is not to be a tree house builder, but rather a great leader, the claim is much harder.
As leaders we have to be comfortable with the intangible. We have to create our value by leading, guiding, and collaborating with others so that the outcomes point back to our worth. I am working on defining my value in my own mind so that I can then bounce the reality of that off those I serve. Scary, huh. Think about this: What if you were to define the value you think you bring to your organization and then ask those you serve if they agree. Then, take it a step further and ask them if this is the value they seek from you. A word of caution — if you do this, you have to be prepared to receive the feedback and take action on any gaps in expectations.
Valuing yourself as a person and acknowledging your needs has a direct link to how you perform in your professional life. We are holistic human beings and when one part suffers, all parts suffer. So do not be afraid to sit down and journal your personal value and see how that correlates with how you feel about your professional value. Self-reflection is not for the weak, it takes courage. Just as it takes courage to become comfortable knowing that you indeed do add value to this world.
I challenge you to think about how you add value. Capture it in a few short sentences and share that with someone in your organization and just see the response you get. Life is about growing and stretching ourselves — it is in the redundancy that the flame grows dim. The more comfortable we are at articulating our value the more we will be able to understand the role we play in the lives of those around us on a daily basis.