I’ve been talking to some professional friends working in different industries who’ve told me they are struggling to have a voice or a seat at “the table”.
You know THE TABLE; the executive table where the most important decisions are made about the direction of your department or your entire organization.
It’s frustrating, even humiliating to feel like your ideas are not heard or that input from your division or department is not considered critical to the discussion.
So, I’ve been thinking about this. Cheryl Sanders advised women to,” Lean In” or take a seat at the table and own it.
Don’t devalue your accomplishments. Speak up with authority. All of that is fine.
But I would suggest, we (men and women) get more of a voice at the table when we are building relationships BEFORE we get to the table. Our voice is heard when our colleagues and managers know us on a different level when they know our motivation, our work ethic when they know us as people and when we have found common ground, allies working on the same issues and problems BEFORE we get to the table.
It’s not easy. I’ve been there.
I know what it’s like to be at the table when my voice was clearly valued as a leader. My opinion mattered in the room.
I’ve also come to the table, unprepared, when I had not laid the proper groundwork for having “a voice” at the table. I had not created relationships with the people sitting next to me. I’d never had a conversation with them outside the room, outside the office. I raised my voice before I knew the positions of my fellow managers or colleagues and why they held their own differing views.
Think about it. It’s human nature.
When you know someone; when you’ve shared lunch, coffee, volunteered together to paint a wall in a school, or watched a basketball game together, when you’ve had meaningful discussions about ways you can help each other and tackle issues outside the room…you are going to be given much more leeway and room to share your voice when you get to the table. It means putting in the time to understand who is sitting there with us.
But what do you do if you don’t even have a seat? When there are internal politics at play? What if those at the table don’t feel your issues, your views, your concerns are important enough to be on the agenda or considered while the most critical decisions are made for your organization?
Time to find an ally who is at the table and who has the power to bring you in.
Someone who can lend support, give advice and help introduce and validate your concerns. I know this works. I’ve been the one who has benefited at the table by many allies and I’ve played the role of ally too: “I think so and so has some fantastic ideas on recruiting we need to hear….”
It’s not as sexy as “lean in”, that’s for sure. Having had this happen to me, I can tell you, all the bravado, all the confidence, all the “I’m owning it attitude” can fly right in your face if you haven’t “set the table” BEFORE you get there.
Dare to “set the table” before you pound your fist on it. Build the relationships.
Have conversations. Find common ground. Share experiences. Find your allies. Understand those with different views. Network outside your normal company network.
Make the time to do all of this. You’ll be amazed at what you learn about your colleagues and organization along the way.
You’ll know when there’s a shift because you’ll feel it in the room…and the seat at the table will be yours.