Coronavirus Part 2, Day 47- On Being In The Right Position

On the lake.

Every room has a main character.

Penny, referring to the dog, sunflower, and John Wayne themed decor in our rental cabin.

Several years ago when I was first leaving the military, I started searching for corporate jobs. I looked at a slew of roles with the ambiguous job title of “project manager”, and other Junior Military Officer transition programs. I looked at one program at Macy’s, which was a rotational program for recent graduates. After reading one job description, Steve did me a favor by saying, “This program is not for you, Diana. It sounds like you’ll be folding pants, and you won’t do well if you’re just folding pants.”

It might be easy to think that someone would perform well in a job that is easy because, well, it’s easy. But this is usually not the case. Jobs or positions that are too easy leave people uninspired and going through the motions, like me folding pants at Macy’s. I wrote about Flow before, which implies that someone will perform best when the role challenges them just enough to stretch their abilities, but not beyond the point of confidence in getting the job done.

In my military reserve unit, there are many inefficiencies. Some of this is inevitable because part-time work lends itself to inefficiencies, but some of it is because people are not in the right position. Of note, being in the right position does not necessarily mean being in the right formal role. Being in the right position in a hierarchical organization means being empowered with autonomy over a sphere of influence, however small, with established lateral limits. But leaders have to create this structure, or risk having a slew of people mindlessly folding pants waiting for the day to end. And if you’re towards the bottom of the hierarchy, there’s only so much initiative you can take when there are people above you filling the gaps, however aloof they might be.

One great thing about writing and creating is that you don’t need someone to come along and empower you. If your ideas are good, the game becomes one of cleverness and industriousness, not waiting for a higher authority to deem you worthy of attention. Seth Godin would call this game of cleverness, earning the permission of an audience. I think this works in many contexts. And while some scenarios lend themselves to more opportunities than others, by creating and codifying ideas, one can chip away at earning permission to be in the right position to influence a change.