How Do I Move from a Specialist to a General Leadership Role?


MURIEL WILKINS: I’m Muriel Wilkins, and this is Coaching Real Leaders, part of the HBR Presents network. I’m a longtime executive coach who works with highly successful leaders who’ve hit a bump in the road. My job is to help them get over that bump by clarifying their goals and figuring out a way to reach them so that hopefully they can lead with a little more ease. I typically work with clients over the course of several months, but on this show, we have a one-time coaching meeting focusing on a specific leadership challenge they’re facing. Today’s guest, who we’ll call Krish to protect his confidentiality, is part of the finance team at a large global company. He recently got promoted to vice president and he’s proven to be pretty valuable at this company, running a team with dozens of people spread around the globe.

KRISH: Within the company that I’m working for, I support a very specific function of finance that supports the business on a day-to-day basis. It’s one of the critical thesis of the engagement with business, because it does define the performance of the business ultimately. It’s a high visibility role. I kind of lead the transformation of the organization along with the day to day execution of the function as well.

MURIEL WILKINS: But Krish is also struggling because he thinks he’s only being viewed as a subject matter expert, even though he feels he has a lot of other ways he can add value. In fact, a few years ago, he left the company looking for new opportunities that would allow him to spread his wings, but when the company faced certain challenges during COVID, they called for Krish’s specialized skills, and so he returned.

KRISH: And that essentially was when I got pulled back into the function to kind of really help take over the organization again, actually. I’ve been with this organization for twenty-plus years. Somewhere along the line, I really became, how do I say a very, very specialized person in the ecosystem of what this function supports.

MURIEL WILKINS: Now, Krish is wondering how to make it clear that while he’s valued for his area of expertise, he can also add value to the company in other ways, not just as a subject matter expert. Let’s jump into the conversation as I ask him about how he became so specialized in the first place.

KRISH: One, I think I like data. I’m a very curious person when you share data to me and because of the volumes and volumes of transactions that we typically engage with, given the size and scale that we engage with, I always got fascinated trying to make connections between data points. And that led me to understanding what you do here, what you do here. So, over the years, I’ve really built that understanding in a very, very holistic manner of the changes that can happen and what the impact of the changes are, and what are the kind of both financially, operationally, all of the elements of it, both internal, external. Pretty much I kind of became so, so specialized in this area that I not just created a name for myself, a legacy for myself, but I also built a huge network of people who I can always go to and say, “Can you kind of go look into this one?” And they would always do it because they have in some way or form seen me come to them in the past, either for a question or for an answer. They can absolutely feel comfortable coming to me if they have a question and I feel comfortable going to them if I had a question, even if the question was a very hard to… If it prompted an answer, which is not the answer which people wanted to hear. And so, that’s how I became so kind of really specialized in this one, in this specific function. And so, when things kind of got a little bit out of control, I got pulled back into this one and I essentially kind of moved away from that three years ago, like I said, and I walked back into the role in terms of supporting and making sure we can stabilize what was really happening in the ground actually. Transformation part of this comes in terms of the way it gets done today. But a lot of what I just said happens very manually. Big companies do have a lot of major processes. So, this is a process which is huge in how much pool of dollars that we manage, but very, very manual, extremely localized, very fragmented, very manual. And part of the reaction from the board of directors, from the executive leadership team is, “how could have we operated this way?” And people did not pay as much critical attention to it because everything was going okay. And when it broke the way it broke, everybody said, “How could we have really done it this way?” And that’s where the transformation opportunity came. And we committed investments to really kind of go address some of the fundamental aspects of how we manage, but we also kind of learned to be, vision to go further step up, to kind of really move to more like a machine language capabilities, artificial intelligence capabilities to help ourselves. That’s where the transmission. And so, when I came back, clearly, I didn’t want to do the same, what I did three years ago. So, the part of the kind of motivation for me to really look at it as an opportunity was the transformation opportunity.

MURIEL WILKINS: Okay. So, it sounds like you’ve sort of built your career or have built a reputation in this very specialized area that supports your business. It has led to creating a name for yourself within the company, as well as a network. And more recently, you were promoted into a role where you will continue to leverage that specialized knowledge and at the same time increase your scope by being responsible, but for other areas such as the transformation as well.

KRISH: Exactly right.

MURIEL WILKINS: Great. So, you’re now here. And so, what is it that is challenging you at the moment? Why are we sitting together?

KRISH: It’s a gift and a curse in some ways. How I say it, a curse is a strong word. The career which I built in this company is largely driven by the opportunities I’ve gotten in this specific area. So, like I said, I built a name for myself. There is name recognition across so many levels for me in this company and for all the good reasons as well. So, my career has propelled in some ways or formed by what I have achieved in this specific area. But it’s also got to a place where it defines me as a person in terms of what I bring to the table. So, anytime you have a breakdown in once in either the [inaudible 00:07:25] or somewhere around the corner or core of it, I get dragged right into it even if I try to move away at points of my career with the company. So, there have been moments when I’ve made choices and said, “You know what? I’m going to do something else in my life.” Because in some ways I was almost thinking myself, am I kind of doing this to myself or are others doing this to me? Because you don’t really know whether you are creating the problem for yourself or you’re… So, am I trying to just build a problem for myself by not really leveraging all the opportunities that is there available for me? And so that’s why I went to Harvard Business School because I really want to broaden my perspectives, which I think was hugely beneficial. If I kind of go back in my background, I came from a very, very small little village where in south of India where you almost know everybody in the village. There were three streets in the village. That’s all it was. So, I never, ever thought I would ever go to a school like Harvard to kind of develop myself. So, I was really thrilled about the opportunity and of course for the first week or so, I felt so out of place because I was completely overwhelmed by just the sheer place actually. But thankfully again, what I got there is to get more perspectives and really kind of open my eyes in terms of how you could look at things, what you think of opportunities in terms of addressing business problems. So, clearly those have been hugely helpful. So, I took the break, but then, like I said, when something goes wrong, you get dragged right back in.

MURIEL WILKINS: Okay. And so, let me just pause here, because I don’t want to lose sight of the paradox that you’ve raised in terms of it’s a gift and it’s a curse. So, and what we’re talking about here is this subject matter expertise and specialization that you’ve built over your twenty-year career at this company. So, you’ve articulated how it’s a gift in terms of it creating a name for you, as well as your network. How does it manifest itself as a curse?

KRISH: Which is kind of what I mean by it’s a strong word, but the way I say it is… It’s almost defined me as a person, which is kind of basically saying, I’ve almost kind of got associated myself only with one specialized theory of what people think you tend to offer. And that is where I kind of say it’s a bit of a curse because I genuinely kind of would think, “Yeah, there is a lot more I could offer.” It’s not just that one field or scope of area that I would offer. And like I said, that’s why I try to go out and do other things just so that I can almost kind of, not just prove because thankfully I have enough name in the company. I don’t have to necessarily prove, but to demonstrate that there could be other places where you can go.

MURIEL WILKINS: All right. So, in a way, is it that you feel like it has limited opportunities for you because you’re so strongly identified with this one area?

KRISH: That is one aspect of it. The other aspect of it is, like I said, along the way I have gained so much knowledge, it comes back to me as an individual. And I’ve struggled myself to find somebody who can replace me.

MURIEL WILKINS: All right.

KRISH: Because that’s where the first part of it comes because you are almost the person to go to when something comes up in that area. And all the years, I’ve tried spending time identifying people, working with people, but I haven’t got to that person who I think essentially takes over. And again, I have the same feedback from the management leadership team as well. You’ve got to find that person who can basically replace you, which is essentially what I have struggled for as well. Now, again, like I said, it’s given all the gifts to me, but how do I kind of get out of this wheel, which I’m spinning all the time. And that’s essentially where I’m looking for help.

MURIEL WILKINS: Let’s take a pause here. What Krish is experiencing, this feeling of being pigeonholed into a particular role in spite of his other skills, is one that many face as a result of their success. And like in this case, it often becomes a catch 22. I want to move on, but I can’t find anyone to replace me. But it’s important that we kick the tire on the obstacle that Krish thinks is getting in the way of reaching his goal, so that’s where we pick the conversation back up. So, let’s start with, you mentioned that there’s two pieces to it. One is if you were able to break out of this strong identification with the role, it might open up other opportunities.

KRISH: Yes.

MURIEL WILKINS: Right. So, it’s who you’re defined as a leader. And then secondly, part of what has also kept you in this role definition is you haven’t really been able to find somebody who could step in, in lieu of you or as a proxy for you. Right? And so, the question that also becomes interesting is, are you waiting for that person to step in before you can define who you are over and beyond this subject matter expertise? But we’ll explore that. Let’s just hold that for a second.

KRISH: Okay.

MURIEL WILKINS: So, let me ask you: you mentioned that you have been trying to find somebody. What has gotten in the way?

KRISH: Like I said, data has always been a passion for me, so I could go down to the most granular level to understand the problem. And I could also transition to maybe making the presentation to the CEO of the company, CFO of the company, kind of really demonstrating what the issue that we have. I’ve been lucky enough to kind of do the transition across the whole channel of this area that I’m operating. Go down to the most bottom level or most granular level, but also be able to articulate the problem, the challenges, the solution to the most senior levels of the company, including CEO, CFO, and everybody. So, when you think of it, I’m looking for people and that’s the expectation I’ve set for the role myself. And that’s the expectation I believe probably people are looking for as well. Who can really do the same, offer the same level of scope in terms of what they deal with – go down to and explain what happens at the most granular level, but also be able to go represent, stand up and have this dialogue with the senior most management of the company.

MURIEL WILKINS: Okay.

KRISH: And that is where I’ve struggled in terms of finding the set of skills in people who can transition this range of what they need to offer in terms of what people expect.

MURIEL WILKINS: Yeah. So, I mean, it sounds to me like you struggled with meeting one area of the formula, and you keep chasing that area in that you stated that these are the expectations that you have created for the role.

KRISH: Correct.

MURIEL WILKINS: And so, the expectation of somebody who can do the data part, but who can also communicate at a high level internally and externally, right? So, it sounds like that’s the holy trinity of what creates this role in the way that you execute on it, and that’s the expectation that you’ve set. And when you’ve gone out and looked for people like that, nobody fits it. Right?

KRISH: Yes.

MURIEL WILKINS: So, if that hasn’t worked and you keep going down that track and you’ve really put an effort in finding that person, the other area that you might want to examine are your expectations.

KRISH: Mm.

MURIEL WILKINS: And are the expectations that you’ve set not really grounded in what is actually needed for the role, rather than what you desire for the role?

KRISH: Yeah. That is interesting. I’ve had the same question myself because like I said, three years ago, when I did that part of the role, that was one of the biggest transition challenge for the leader who took over from me at that point of time. And we kind of got to a similar place three years later. And that’s where I kind of stepped back in actually. Because in some ways, like I said, I almost walked away from it not wanting to go there and I intentionally – right or wrong – I intentionally stayed away from helping the person make that leap or kind of do the similar offering, what I was offering. If I’m just kind of calling myself as a product or a service, I’m saying, can the leader offer be the same as what I was offering? And I see that way because I didn’t want to model it the same way how I did. And my goal was will people reset the expectation because now that I walked away, can people reset the expectation themselves? And here I am three years later – I’m back to the same place actually.

MURIEL WILKINS: Yeah, but here’s the thing. I think you’re the one who’s been the expert in this area. So, I don’t think you should be waiting for others to reset the expectation. I think you need to reset the expectation. You know the role best. So, the question becomes, is there any other way that this role can be fulfilled, that builds on what you’ve done, that leverages what you’ve done, but doesn’t have to exactly – be exactly what you do. Right? So, that’s one. And then secondly, it sounds to me like you are sort of seeing things as one end of the spectrum to the other. It’s either you’re all in and it has to be done exactly the way you’ve done it and you’re the only one who can do it, or you’re all out, and let the people fly and let them figure out how to do it. And my question is, is there something that’s in the middle?

KRISH: I think that’s probably what I should think about because… and would you then suggest that I take the lead in defining that expectation and kind of guiding through that expectation?

MURIEL WILKINS: I don’t know. What do you think?

KRISH: I think so. For my own good, I think so, because, like I said, I don’t want to keep spinning the same view. I genuinely want to do something different, and I also want to set somebody else for successful. Because maybe that’s something which I didn’t do well enough last time maybe. If I think over it now, maybe I should have probably played a more active role in setting the successor who took over my role in a better way. Because like you said, I kind of almost did all in or all out, either I’m in or out. And that probably was not probably the right way for how I should have thought about it.

MURIEL WILKINS: I think my suggestion really is that you do something different than what you’ve already tried.

KRISH: Yeah. No.

MURIEL WILKINS: Right?

KRISH: Yes.

MURIEL WILKINS: And so, if it’s that middle ground that you haven’t tried yet, then it’s that middle ground. I also think a lot of people, when they think about roles and expectations and you ask them to describe the role, they end up personalizing it too much. Right? So, they describe the expectations and describe the role either as a mirror to the very effective person that’s in it, or if that person is ineffective, as the total opposite, then the person who’s in it. Right? And I think, in your shoes, when you have to try to redefine or define what this role is and set expectations, I think you need to depersonalize it. So, I think the question is not, who can do the role like Krish has done so well, and what did he do? The question really is, what does the business need from this role? And therefore, what are the criteria that we need to look for in an individual to fit that role?

KRISH: Yep.

MURIEL WILKINS: Right? And let’s not also lose sight that it has taken you twenty years to build this level of expertise. Right?

KRISH: Yep.

MURIEL WILKINS: And to build the network and to build the trust with the higher levels’ leaders in your organization. And so, there’s also a question of, is it even viable to find one person who can fit all those things?

KRISH: Yeah. No, I agree.

MURIEL WILKINS: And it could be. It could be. I’m just mirroring the fact that you said you’ve tried to find it and you haven’t, so therefore…

KRISH: No, very true.

MURIEL WILKINS: Either.

KRISH: Yeah. Again, like I said, I’ve tried it maybe two, three times and I probably failed… in like they say, the classic case of the insanity definition, doing the same thing again and again and trying for a different outcome. And it’s probably what I was trying again and again, actually.

MURIEL WILKINS: Yeah.

KRISH: Yeah. And to be fair, and like I said, I did go seek for opportunities myself because my curiosity led to places where others don’t typically go. And part of my curiosity also has been, I’ve gone there, tried to understand things, like I said, both internal, external perspective, which I’ve been very lucky. And it’s almost like when I came into the company initial years, I was almost like a sponge. I was absorbing so much in this space that it just stuck with me for so long, and that kind of played a benefit in terms of the knowledge. But over the years, what I did on top of the knowledge is really building the network, which kind of became the almost intellectual property of mine, which is essentially what it’s turned out to be. Right? And maybe it’s also a question which I should be asking myself and probably posting it to who I engage with to say, is this even possible? Do we need to think of the role being really managed differently as well, with different people, with different skillsets and what they can bring?

MURIEL WILKINS: I think that that’s the exact question, and it becomes business need-driven rather than a reaction to what you’ve done in the past.

KRISH: Yeah.

MURIEL WILKINS: Sometimes we can let the stone get in the way of climbing the mountain. Meaning, we let the short term problem get in the way of dealing with the bigger challenge ahead. In Krish’s case, it was difficult for him to see past the issue of finding his replacement. So, it was important that we unpack that first, before we move on to dealing with his reputation as an expert. He’s clearly gained a lot of influence at the company as a deep subject matter expert, but his aspirations are far more than that role and he needs some help getting there. To figure that out he has to start by defining what it is that he wants. Let’s dive back in.

MURIEL WILKINS: So, I’m going to ask you this.

KRISH: Yeah.

MURIEL WILKINS: You’re very clear about how you’re being defined right now, what your reputation is. What is it that you would like to be known for if it’s not this?

KRISH: So, I would like to be known as a leader who can bring organizational transformation, take big problems and solve them and also bring teams together. Those are the three ways of how I would think of what if I were to advertise what I bring to the table. That’s probably the three things I would advertise.

MURIEL WILKINS: Okay.

KRISH: Now within that, there are definitely capabilities and skills that I bring – like data, for example. That’s a skill set. That’s not an offering that you do. That’s a skillset that you bring and same way, how you engage with people is a skillset that you bring. And those are skills that I have really helped myself develop over the years. And my curiosity is almost like something which is always there and need to just go seek answers in these ways.

MURIEL WILKINS: If you were known for these three things that you named, right – organizational transformation, problem, solving, bringing teams together – what difference would that make for you? What difference would that make in terms of your opportunities? Just what difference would it make?

KRISH: In terms of opportunities, clearly, I would probably have the opportunity to think about roles in supporting business outside of the one area, which I’m supporting. In a broader prospect. Let’s say, even just owning the profit and loss for deliverable outcome for a business unit. And that’s not… So, I support a global function today. And can I just go look at one geography and say, would I want to be the finance leader for that one geography, rather than just doing a global kind of role for one area, which I have so specialized on.

MURIEL WILKINS: Okay.

KRISH: And then same way, just one business function. Can I do the similar role for one business function or can I take over a business function, which either has a long term goal to change the way it operates. And can I kind of support the business in executing that strategy of whatever they’re having. That is the opportunity, which I think it would create for me if I kind of move away from this legacy, what I have for myself.

MURIEL WILKINS: Okay. And so the way that you would like to be seen and positioned for the company, to what extent do you feel you currently are demonstrating any of those three areas?

KRISH: So, I think on the part consistent with what the expectation is for this organization, I think I’m demonstrating across all three. Now, does that make people think that I can only do in those three? That’s the part I get stuck with. Or maybe let me say, am I framing what I offer or what I bring to the table in the three base of how I laid it out? Or am I framing what I bring to the table again, in the context of that specialized area? I think that’s probably where maybe I may have framed it exclusive to that specific area. And that’s probably where I’ve got myself stuck in this, if I were to call this a rat hole, actually.

MURIEL WILKINS: There you go. But guess what? You’re digging yourself out right before me. I can see it. Right? And so, it’s the framing.

KRISH: Yeah.

MURIEL WILKINS: It’s not a matter of capabilities. It’s really around, how are you presenting yourself to others? And if you’re constantly presenting yourself really being reactive to where people are putting you, then yeah, that’s how you’re going to show up. Versus what you just said, which is, what if I framed, even in my current position – what if I leveled up and, or I even addressed other business issues and reframed the way that I present myself? So, what would that look like for you?

KRISH: Clearly, I think in terms of just the opportunities itself, you are generalizing what you can deliver or what you can bring, which is a good thing. And because most opportunities as you think about it are essentially around these three areas, most opportunities. Clearly, you want to support your business to deliver their business goals. And clearly, every big organization has a core goal of bringing teams together, and solving complex problems is always there as a fundamental expectation for everybody actually. So, I clearly think people would appreciate what I can bring to the table in light of what I’m achieving here as a proof point for what I could offer rather than basically… Because of the way maybe I’m framing it, people tend to associate it only that I can do it in this place. Which maybe, it’s probably me who’s saying I’m doing it, but I’m doing it here, rather than me, myself, not telling here is what I bring and these things could equally be applicable in other places where you have a similar requirement in terms of what needs to be done.

MURIEL WILKINS: Right. So, I think what you’re doing, if I can use a metaphor, I think it’s a metaphor, is instead of positioning yourself as an athlete, you’re positioning yourself as a basketball player.

KRISH: Okay.

MURIEL WILKINS: Right? And you are like, “But I can play baseball and I can play football and I can play soccer and I can play tennis.”

KRISH: Yes.

MURIEL WILKINS: But you keep going out in the world and telling people you’re a great basketball player, right?

KRISH: No.

MURIEL WILKINS: And so, the question becomes, how do you present yourself as an athlete?

KRISH: Yeah. Now in terms of, and this is… I’m going to probably bring this out because this has come up. So, there have been peers of mine who have said, “Here is an opportunity for you to go pursue.” And there are times when I would’ve gone back and told them, “Ah, I’m not really sure I’m going to be able to do that job.” Now I’m thinking it’s almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy I’ve created for myself. But I’ve said, “You know what? I’m only going to do that work because I’m only good at that,” when people, others would’ve come and told me, which means probably even peers would’ve come back and told me, “Oh, maybe you should try it.” And now I’m thinking twice on.

MURIEL WILKINS: I mean, Krish, right? You are being perceived exactly the way you’re presenting yourself.

KRISH: No, very true.

MURIEL WILKINS: Right? So, and you came into this conversation focused on like, “how can other people see me differently?” And I think really it’s how do you see you differently? Right? And back to the sports metaphor, not only are you… What you just shared with me is you’re getting invited to play baseball, right?

KRISH: Yeah.

MURIEL WILKINS: Because people think you can, and you’re saying, “No, no, no, no, no. I’m still a basketball player.” Right?

KRISH: Yeah.

MURIEL WILKINS: So, I think the exercise for you is truly about honing in on, how do you define the value that you bring to the table? That’s number one. And you have framed it in those three areas that we talked about. And then secondly, really important, how do you demonstrate it? To whom? Where? And in what situations? Because if the only place you demonstrate it in is in this little area – not little area, this area that you have specialized in – those are the only people who are going to see it. If you want to see it transferable to other areas, then you’ve got to move from playing basketball to playing baseball and bring it over there.

KRISH: Yeah.

MURIEL WILKINS: Now here’s the good news. You have built, it sounds like from what you’ve shared, an incredible network.

KRISH: Yes.

MURIEL WILKINS: Across the company. That’s like your practice field, because I think what would be worthwhile for you is to actually do some outreach, almost some promotion for yourself around how you can be positioned. Right? You now need to go tell people that you’re a multifaceted athlete.

KRISH: Yeah.

MURIEL WILKINS: That’s an asset that a lot of people don’t have. It’s like, “Okay, now I know, but who do I tell?” You actually have people to tell.

KRISH: Yes. And again, like I said, I have been lucky and grateful for what I have built. Now, in terms of the promotion, this is another. Again, just given my cultural way of how I grew up. This is why I used to even when a peer comes and tells me, “You should try,” I’m almost kind of hesitating myself. Am I even kind of going to try it? Should I even try it in terms of what is being offered actually? So, in terms of this promotion, I probably need to have to force myself to do it because it’s definitely not going to come naturally for me, just given my way of how I approach it, but definitely something which I should think about.

MURIEL WILKINS: Yeah. I mean, the word promotion conjures up a lot of like, it’s a bad thing. So let’s just put that to the side, right?

KRISH: Yeah. Yeah.

MURIEL WILKINS: You framed it as just trying it. And look, Krish, it wouldn’t be the first time you tried something. I mean, what you shared about your story of growing up in a very rural area and then getting to where you are in your career and being able to attend top educational institutions… you’ve used the word quite a bit over our conversation around being lucky. That’s not just luck.

KRISH: Yeah.

MURIEL WILKINS: What do you attribute it to?

KRISH: I think I’ve had some great mentors. And like I said, my curiosity has allowed me to really build on certain things, which I never thought I could build on. And mentors have been a huge part of my career. And I’m sure along the way, I’ve got a lot of luck as well. Yes.

MURIEL WILKINS: So, I think that curiosity is what can lead you to exploring other opportunities. Right? Be curious about them…

KRISH: Yeah.

MURIEL WILKINS: …since that’s what you’ve grounded yourself – as something that has led to a lot of your success, and mentors are great. All those things are a great combination. You have great mentors, you have curiosity and the will to follow through on it. You have luck as you put it. But I’m going to tell you, those three things are great, but without effort it doesn’t amount to where you’ve gotten in your career. So, I think leverage all those three things and recognize that you also have a track record of putting the effort in and of dealing with situations which, at first, might seem overwhelming. That’s what you described your situation was when you went to business school.

KRISH: Oh, yeah.

MURIEL WILKINS: That it was at first overwhelming and then you made it through. Right? And so, such as the life of different career opportunities. Right? So, I don’t think it’s so much about promotion, even though I’m the one who used that word. I think it really is about being curious and having the confidence that you can leverage everything that you’ve been great at in getting you to where you are and translate it to other roles.

KRISH: Yeah. Like I said, it was more for me to look inside than outside actually. I was looking outside all the time.

MURIEL WILKINS: All the time, all the time. Right?

KRISH: Yeah.

MURIEL WILKINS: And so, I think where we are is, you really have to work this parallel path of identifying someone or, dare I say, others, right? It might be more than one person to be able to start building and fulfilling the role that you’re in so that it fills the need, so that’s sort of drawing something in. And at the same time, you have to take this definition of who you think you are, who you believe you are and the value you think you can bring to the table over and beyond being a subject matter expert in this area and start actually walking that walk.

KRISH: Yep.

MURIEL WILKINS: In the way you speak, in the opportunities you put yourself forth on, in what you share with your mentors and your sponsors and your network to start saying, “Yes, I can do this.” Right? “Let me know if there are other area ways I can be of service.” And I think if you walk both of those in parallel, then you might start seeing the transformation that you want to see. So, what are you going to… Let’s get real concrete here. So, as a result of this conversation, what are you going to do?

KRISH: Like you said, probably first, I’m going to kind of define the role in terms of what really needs to be done on that role. And for that I’m probably going to go have dialogues with my business partners, stakeholders, internal, external, to really, what do they think that role entails actually? And how do we kind of then think about the way we can set up somebody for that role? How can we make somebody successful in the role? And if that kind of really also means me working with the set of individuals who can ultimately take up that role, that should also be part of the play. That not just define the role, get feedback in terms of defining the role, both internal, external in terms of… And also set the expectation, what that role should really be as well. And in the process, identify people, folks who are well talented as, or more talented than I am to kind of make sure they will see the role, the opportunity in the role, and then kind of set them up for that role if they want to pursue, if that fits in their view of what they want to do in their careers. So, that is task number one, if I were to call it as one of the work streams that I need to work to. And then the second one is just going back and reflecting on myself in terms of who am I? What do I really represent in terms of what I bring as well as what I’m capable of? And also what I want to do as well, because in some ways maybe I’m kind of happy with where I am, but I also want to complain.

MURIEL WILKINS: Yeah. I think that you are very clear on what you no longer want to do.

KRISH: Yeah.

MURIEL WILKINS: But you haven’t been clear about what you want to do.

KRISH: Yeah, exactly.

MURIEL WILKINS: So, it’s very difficult to move on… [crosstalk 00:38:30]

KRISH: Yeah, when I’m not letting go myself.

MURIEL WILKINS: … to what you want to do if you’re not letting go of the current situation.

KRISH: Yeah. No, I absolutely understand that now, which is great. So, first I have to go back and do the reflection on myself, and then as I think about it, also use my network peers –leaders – to kind of really go back and have those dialogues with them. Also, offer up what I can do if there is an opportunity, and kind of actively seek the opportunity rather than wait for it. Offer what you can do rather than somebody coming and knocking on your shoulder and saying, “Why don’t you do that for me?”

MURIEL WILKINS: That’s right. All right. Very good. Thank you so much for sharing.

KRISH: No, thank you. This is super helpful for me.

MURIEL WILKINS: As you map out your career strategy, it’s not enough to declare that you want to be a leader. At some point, you need to determine what type of leader you want to be. In Krish’s case, he had to decide whether he wanted to be an expert leader or more of a generalist leader. One is not better than the other, but the approach you focus on significantly informs what opportunities you pursue, how you go about your work, and even how you communicate. Without that focus, you will have a reputation, but it may not necessarily align with your aspirations. The key is figuring out what you want to do, and then thinking about how to reposition yourself to get there. That’s it for this episode, next time on Coaching Real Leaders…

SPEAKER 4: It kind of makes me feel that I’m losing their trust because when you’re the person that is supposed to help them, but you’re actually not knowledgeable enough for their work… Yeah, it’s kind of a challenge for me.

MURIEL WILKINS: Thanks to my producer, Mary Dooe, sound editor, Nick Crnko, music composer, Brian Campbell, my assistant Emily Sofa, and the entire team at HBR. Much gratitude to the leaders who join me in these coaching conversations and to you – our listeners who share in their journeys. If you’d like to dive deeper into these coaching sessions, join me and the rest of the Coaching Real Leaders community for live episode discussions at coachingrealleaderscommunity.com. And if you’re dealing with a leadership challenge, I’d love to hear from you and possibly have you on the show. Apply at coachingrealleaders.com. And of course, if you love the show and learn from it, pay it forward, share it with your friends, subscribe, and leave a review wherever you get your podcast. For HBR Presents, I’m Muriel Wilkins. Until next time, be well.



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