In the past year I’ve coached several junior women leaders who were promoted while we were working together (yes!). Their new roles required them to lead larger teams, become more visible with clients and senior leaders and to step into the ever-elusive title of "thought leader." For most, they had the tools they needed to rise to these expectations. Confidence, know-how, grit—it was all there.
But for a few, there was something holding them back.
It showed up as:
An un-spoken contract that they should not disagree with the very boss or mentor who helped them get where they are
A strong connection to the work they were doing and the people they were serving before their promotions
Together we uncovered how their understanding of loyalty was blocking them from fulfilling their potential in their careers using the following approach.
1. Disrupt and redefine loyalty
What does loyalty currently mean and what could it possibly mean to you? Are you defining loyalty as a need to stand by your leader no matter how you feel about his or her approach or opinion? One could argue that loyalty is quite the opposite. Loyalty is when you’re clear about who you are and what you believe—especially in the face of disagreement. When you’re true to yourself, others know they can count on you for opinions and that you can provide safety for when they want to be themselves. Taking this one step further, loyalty need not mean staying in one place for eternity. If you’ve set up the premise that you must be true to yourself, then when it’s time for you to move on—supporting new teams and taking on new projects—others will get on board in time, recognizing these as opportunities for themselves as well.
2. Communicate your new definition
If you’re working on differentiating yourself from your leader as part of your new take on loyalty AND you have a solid relationship with him or her, now’s the time to share your strategy for growth. Acknowledge your appreciation for all of their support, while sharing that you’re hoping to take ownership of certain projects, lead the meetings and most importantly—share a different point of view. Know that this conversation may be challenging, but in having the conversation you’re exercising the very muscles you’re aiming to stretch. Note how it feels in this moment and expect that feeling again as you begin to spread your wings. And if you’re moving on to new responsibilities, I urge you to avoid becoming the person who has two jobs. Be clear about the projects and tasks you’ll be handing off as soon as possible so you can clear your plate for your new role. Offer up the chance for someone new to take ownership of your former responsibilities, just as you are doing with the new.
3. Practice and witness new possibilities
Oh how I wish simply saying you are going to do something could make you fully change. As we know, it doesn’t, and you will need to practice stepping out of your old loyalty habit of deferring to your boss when you’re set to take the lead. One way I like to do this is by coming up with a word or phrase that can nudge you out of the comfortable habit in the moment. It could be "soar" or "rise" or "carpe freakin’ diem." Whatever it is, saying something in that moment will give you that jolt you need to be the leader you envision. Each time you step into that role with more visibility and authority, your colleagues will begin to expect that’s how you will show up, and in turn they will call on you for your expertise, your POV and your support.
When you begin to reframe loyalty in your career, you’ll begin to see other areas of your life where your loyalty definition can be tweaked. Are you giving endless airtime to negative family members who want to use your precious minutes for complaints? Over-parenting anyone? As we say in the coaching world, "How you do one thing is how you do everything." So, when you realize you’re stuck in a habit in one area of your life, it’s a wonderful opportunity to begin investigating other areas of your life where that same pattern may be ripe for a reboot!