Entering the workforce can be intimidating at first because you’re suddenly surrounded by knowledgeable, competent experts, while you only know what you learned in school (much of which doesn’t equip you for the workplace…but more on that another time). However, what I have discovered during my working life is that most employees are simply putting on a good show. Sure, they know all the jargon, processes and history of a company or industry, but they really don’t know much beyond what can be laid out in an instruction booklet.
Corporations need people who can follow instructions because they are the muscles and ligaments that move a corporation. In contrast, senior leadership requires expertise and foresight beyond the known. They need the ability to synthesize thousands of pieces of seemingly disparate information into a cohesive strategy. Said differently, there is a set of employees that follow instructions and there is a set of employees that write the instructions. When it comes to writing the instructions most people are simply making it up along the way. The employees following instructions need to feel like they are following the correct instructions. So those writing the instructions require conviction, confidence and consistency…even if they are dead wrong.
I have discovered that the key to success in a corporate environment has nothing to do with competence or expertise. Instead, those who can form a convincing narrative out of a random assortment of information will thrive. People who are willing to shape the unknown and ambiguous into a framework for others to use will become the future leaders.
Many senior managers realize they are making things up along the way, and that they are taking a chance on one strategic path of thousands of possibilities. There really is no way around the uncertainty of strategic planning, but those who do it best are the ones that acknowledge their limitations and have the confidence to alter course when it makes sense.