Your opportunity at last

Imagine this:

After years of toiling in obscurity you find yourself in a position of power and influence. After years of never being heard you’re now being sought out.

You waited a long time for your day in the sun. Now that it’s arrived, how do you handle your change in fortune?

Practice humility


When the limelight shines on you, don’t let it blind you.

Even though the limelight is now shining on you, remember that only recently you were in darkness. When you were struggling, you probably worked hard to keep things in perspective and to maintain healthy self-respect. Lacking power and authority didn’t mean you were less valuable than other people.

Now you need to work just as hard to hold onto that sense of perspective. You’re still the same person. Having power and authority doesn’t make you better than everyone else. If you try to act like you are better, you’ll likely lose people’s respect — and with it, you’ll lose your power and authority.

Finally, it’s not for nothing that there are so many quotations and proverbs about the need for humility: For pryde goeth before and shame commeth after (John Heywood). Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted (Luke 18:14).

Be a servant leader

Having been down in the trenches for so long, you have a unique perspective. What did you wish your managers had done for you? What did you wish they knew about you?

Now you can put into practice the things you wanted from your old managers. Now is your chance to become, in the words of Robert K. Greenleaf, a servant leader: a servant first, a leader second.

Say things that are worth hearing

At long last, people are listening to you. It wasn’t easy to get their attention; it’s even harder to hold onto it. Don’t waste your opportunity by saying things that are self-serving, manipulative, or deceptive.

These thoughts were prompted by two baseball teams — the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians — who’ve just qualified for the World Series and who’ve gone a very long time since winning their last championships (1908 and 1948, respectively).

Over the next few days the Cubs and the Indians will try to make the most of the opportunity they have. After decades in the darkness, they’re in the limelight. I can’t wait to see how they’ll respond.

What about you? Did you ever find yourself in the limelight after years in darkness? What did you do with your opportunity?

4 thoughts on “Your opportunity at last

  1. Susan Carpenter

    This has happened to me a couple of times.

    The first time, in the late 90s, was local to my IBM workplace. I was leading doc efforts for three relatively hot software offerings and impressing Development management. I actually had someone I did not know stop me in the hall to tell me that she wanted to be just like me. Holy moly — I did not know what to make of that.

    I liked the adulation well enough, but my head was not in the right place. I wasn’t prepared for the attention. And I had no one to ground me. I didn’t become Doczilla or anything like that – the damage was mostly in my head. I nearly burned myself out trying to live up to some ideal that wasn’t maintainable for the long term. No one stays on top forever.

    The second time, in the mid 2000s, leaked out of my workplace a little. DITA was an up and coming thing, and as the first person to lead a team to production on DITA, I got some visibility, all right: conferences, interviews now lost to history, eventually a promotion. I probably could have parlayed my involvement into something bigger, but I was having too much fun working with groups across IBM who were looking at DITA for the first time. I had monthly calls with doc managers from around the business to discuss process and change management for the benefit of both the business and the people involved. I had a blast working with my home-project IA on new ways to mine our DITA content base for the benefit of our customers and the content community in general. That time around, I achieved more of what I’ve always looked for in a job — autonomy, variety, innovation that mattered, and pride in the accomplishment — while helping others navigate their own journeys.

  2. Larry Kunz Post author

    Thanks, Susan, for sharing your experiences. I’m especially struck by your first story, in which you created high expectations for yourself based on the way people responded to you. Not only is it impossible to maintain the high ideal in the long term, as you said, but it’s unhealthy for any leader to think that they’re responsible (or that they deserve the credit) for everything.

  3. Pingback: Go ahead and let them see you sweat | Leading Technical Communication

  4. Pingback: A good teammate: Leading from within | Leading Technical Communication

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