So far, we’ve looked at two practices that you can use to demonstrate ownership or conviction for the things you are involved in: taking a stand and filling action vacuums. A third practice that demonstrates ownership (and thereby furthers your skill at “being executive”) relates to how you approach the white spaces.
White spaces are the areas you encounter in your professional endeavors that are terra incognita. No one is looking at them, no one owns solving the problems they represent, and no one is asking you to take care of them.
Even so, you are the one who sees the friction that an unsolved issue puts into the system. You are the one who is able to discern the pattern that rests behind a series of inefficiencies. And you are the one who sees the organizational levers you could use to solve it.
Many of my clients ask, “Why should I take on white space work when it isn’t part of my role description and my manager hasn’t asked me to? I’d be sticking my neck out, taking on extra work, and it’s clearly not a priority to him since he hasn’t mentioned it to me.”*
The thing is, what this perspective doesn’t consider is how truly busy managers are and how there is no humanly possible way for managers to know what’s going on in every corner of their domain. Most managers we encounter expect their team members to own looking after the organization’s interests, whether or not they have been explicitly asked to do so with regard to every particular. No one but you have a better purview on what’s going on in the details of your world.
So, why not get in there and do something? You might have a blast. You might find your sweet spot. You might even make an incredible career of it. Taking a stand (#3), stepping into action vacuums (#4), and playing into the white spaces (#5) — in other words, driving innovation and solving the problems you have a front-row seat on** — are all ways you demonstrate you own it. Owning it — demonstrating passion or conviction — is an important part of being executive.
*Remember from Lesson 2 that “sticking your neck out” might be exactly the thing you need to do to create visibility around your contributions and potential.
**What if you don’t want to play into the white spaces (or fill action vacuums or take a stand, for that matter)? How you run your career is for you to decide and no one else. What is critically important is that you see yourself and how you’re showing up with crystal clear clarity so that (1) you can be sure you are making intentional choices about what you believe, say, and do; and so that (2) the choices you make set you up to achieve the outcomes you want.