If you have risen to a certain level in an organization you have likely had the opportunity to add a new skill to your arsenal: the Invisible Executive:
An invisible executive carries out unapproved corporate strategy using somebody else's resources.
In order to inspire large (or potentially small) groups of people to work with you on your strategy, there are three key guarantees you must offer them:
These guarantees were shared by Daniel Pink at a recent EMC leadership meeting, and in previous posts I have already reflected on the first two items. I shared my personal story of trying to build a global innovation measurement framework. It was a big task and there was no way that I could carry it out on my own. I needed at least one person from nearly every country where EMC innovators and researchers were located.
So I started my recruitment pitch by appealing to a higher purpose: we need to measure global innovation across EMC.
I followed up by ceding any authority that I had and giving out a significant amount of autonomy. This autonomy resulted in an initial burst of creativity and results that propelled the strategy forward. I ended up with an aggregation framework for collecting innovation and research activities.
To complete the final phase of execution on the strategy I have consistently been offering my "invisible team" the opportunity to master two new skills that will significantly benefit their careers: innovation and data analytics.
My Own Skill Growth
As I mentioned in the very first post that kicked off this discussion (Stop Playing Chess, Start Playing Risk), I look back about seven years ago and see a set of new career skills (beyond software engineering) that I acquired on a year-by-year basis:
- Social media (one of my first posts from 2008)
- Author (publishing my thoughts on innovation)
- Speaker (lecturing at research locations worldwide)
- Innovation Director (running innovation programs since 2011)
- Data Science Life Cycle Management
- Executive Brokering
- Executive Bartering
- Invisible Executive
This list is an undeniable message that careers can be reinvented via the acquisition of new skills. The timing of adding these skills is critical. For example, I added my social media skills at a point in corporate history where few people were doing the same. As a result I had a skill that gave me a unique value within my corporation.
It follows that when I'm recruiting a new invisible team for an unapproved strategy, the end game is that they should walk away from my project with new, relevant skills that significantly help their careers.
In 2011, when I was launching this new project, the new buzzword skill was data scientist. I had many, many friends inside EMC that wanted to explore this new skill and see if it was for them.
By signing up for my team, they were immediately thrown into a situation where they could develop their mastery. The results of their efforts were creative to the point where they exceeded expectations, and I credit them with actually launching the new field of Innovation Analytics, something that I have blogged continually about for several years.
As the project proceeded, I saw many of them assume new roles in the corporation that leverage the skills that they were practicing as part of our project. They developed mastery of something new, which was a highly motivating factor for why they joined up in the first place.
So consider purpose, autonomy, and mastery for any project that you are running, whether it is done openly or in stealth.
Often times the manager of one of these employees are quite hesitant to allow their direct reports to perform any task in stealth mode. For these situations I have often relied on commando mentoring, which I will cover in a future post.