[11.15.10]
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Career Strategy: Be The Glue

job descriptions, informal leadership, leadership role, career strategies, career, role, leadership, informal, roles, appreciate, play, glue This one won’t work for everyone.  But I think a lot of you will appreciate the simplicity of it.

It’s about a career strategy.  The informal leadership role you can play at work.  Even if no one is looking.

In short, “be the glue” has to do with your role in the company.  But not the one that is detailed in the job description.  Being the glue isn’t about what anyone has written down for you.

It’s the job you work your way into as part of a career strategy.   It’s a way of dedicating a piece of yourself to your success.  And to the success of your boss, your department and your company.

But let me warn you about a few things first.  Because I know a number of you that are “the glue” now. Or have been in the past.  And are comfortable in the role.  You haven’t seen it as a career strategy, you just do it.

The warnings:

1.  You aren’t really appreciated.  In fact, very few people know the unique role that you play in the office.  Even though you are highly aware of the problems you prevent and the stability that your efforts provide the team.  Sometimes your boss may not even recognize what you are doing.

2.  You won’t get paid for it. It’s outside your official job description.  And likely won’t be identified on your objectives for the year.  So any potential bonus will still be tied to your core responsibilities.

3.  You don’t get promoted. In some ways you’ve created a small cocoon of stability.  You’ve become so good at a job that it would be too painful to lose you.  Glue is sticky.

But here’s the problem.  You love playing this role.  There is tremendous personal satisfaction in keeping the ship afloat.  Keeping customers happy.  And not letting things fall through the cracks.  So you’ll probably keep doing it.  Even with the above warnings.

It’s in your blood.  And I love you for it.

So here are a few ways to continue being yourself.  Create a bit more positive PR and the beginnings of a career strategy.

Be Proactive About New Projects

For example, if you decide to be the informal owner of the price list and take pride in catching errors, suggesting updates or format improvements.  Why not suggest that as a permanent role for yourself?  Assuming no one else already has that job.  If someone does and you still want to play the role, offer your help formally to the person.  Everyone appreciates extra eyes and ears.  Assuming your fixes go to them and not to others (could embarrass the formal owner).

Tell People What You Are Doing

If you see a problem about to happen.  And notice that no one is else is on it.  Go ahead and fix it.  But don’t let the day pass without making sure the person most likely to appreciate the catch hears about it.  And depending on your company and it’s communication culture, that may be your boss.  If the company is more open, you can communicate it directly to a cross-functional head.  You are not bragging here.  It is an FYI that a problem was avoided.  And perhaps an opportunity to share other ideas to improve a process.

Don’t Let Too Long Go By

If you’ve been the glue for a long time, you are in a tougher spot.  When you let people know what you are doing, it might be met with “Great and thanks”.   The longer you are doing an informal leadership role, the less it will be overtly appreciated.  There’s a nit of human nature in there, I think.  People practice complacent appreciation.  If you decide to take on a new role on your own, make sure you begin highlighting your contributions right away.

Be The Glue In The Most Public Way Possible

And here are the best places.  Consumer or customer facing departments tend to get the most attention.  If you take care of the the consumer (the one spending money with you) or the customer (the one providing cash flow), you will have more exposure.  Sales people will love you.  The CFO will smile at you.  And so will the marketing department.  Especially in this new era of social media where consumers and customers have an increasingly louder voice.  Other important places to be the glue?  How about a nice cost savings or other type of efficiency.  Reducing or preventing costs pay big dividends.

Get Your Informal Responsibilities Written Into Your Official Responsibilities

Find a job no one owns or one that needs to be added and get it added to your official list.  You are more likely to be rewarded and appreciated for something that is a part of your formal responsibilities.  And when the informal role is now obvious and of value to your boss.  Helps their career strategy as well.  And maybe it’s a job you love but isn’t loved by its current owner.

Teach Someone New To Be Your Replacement Glue

If you’ve shown an ability to keep things running efficiently.  If you are indispensable.  You need to make sure that you can be safely promoted.  By making sure someone can become the glue after you’ve moved up.  Find others in your department with a similar need or pride in being a safety net.  Or offer to help your boss write a formal job description and hire them.

Learn A Key Skill That Lets You Be More Credible

If your informal role is in helping sales get ready for presentations, become a Powerpoint expert.  Keeping projects on time and on budget?  Learn Microsoft project.  The more you can formalize your tools, the more people will see and appreciated your skills.  As more than just a small thing you do to help out.

Does this describe you or someone that has worked for you in the past?  If so, how have you worked through the issues I’ve identified?  And how do you suggest someone get appreciation for their informal role?  And build a career strategy.

Photo Credit


Written by: Tim Tyrell-Smith
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Categories: Career Advice
  • Glen Loock

    Great Post. We often forget the people that hold the office together. Also great advice to get our informal responsibilities written into our job description. This become HUGH when it is time for promotions, raises, or downsizing. the greater value we bring to the company the greater value they place on us.

  • Thanks Glen – Yes, it is an interesting position to hold within a company. As long as it is appreciated and not forgotten . . .

  • When I think of “glue” I think of someone who is a relationship builder. Connecting others can and should be a goal of it’s own. You don’t need a title to lead, in fact sometimes the worst leaders have a formal title. Be the “glue” and help others stick…together.

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  • Hey Scott – Thanks for the comment and re-tweet. Much appreciated. Yes, anyone can play this role. I did it years ago at the director level helping to prevent the sales and marketing teams from imploding due to bad blood. I worked to negotiate a middle ground. One that let everyone win.

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  • Rob Taub

    Being a selfless advocate of the company, mission, others… will almost always pay dividends; and those times you feel unrecognized … that it didn’t pay a dividend? … ask yourself how you felt putting the company or others or a mission before yourself. Betcha you felt pretty darn good at the time (I know, right?) … and therein lye your dividend. Thanks for reminding me Tim!! Oh, and thank you Susan @jobHuntOrg for tweeting this for me to see

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  • No problem, Rob. Appreciate your taking a few minutes to comment here. There are some who warn against being too selfless. That you won’t be appreciated and may even be a target for a layoff when it comes (don’t get that). But I think if you are the glue, it is in your DNA. And it is the role you want and need to play in the world.


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