What Three Words Describe Your Role?

I call myself an author, speaker, and advisor. What would you call yourself if you could only use three words, and needed to list them in a specific order?

The order I use is intentional because it’s an aspirational statement about how I want to impact my world. One-half of my income still comes from advising (it’s a term that’s not as loaded as consulting), but it’s not as sustainable as the other two.

All three are connected, though. Without advising I’d have far fewer original thoughts or the means to formulate research. Without books I’d struggle to get paid well to speak and I’d not articulate my thinking clearly enough. Without speaking I’d lose my fear of looking stupid on stage. Besides, it’s where I dive into empty pools and try to invent water on the way down–I like the thrill.

What three words would you use for yourself? Some of you would use the same three words that I have. Most of you run sizeable firms, and for you folks I’d like to take a stab at answering that question. Even if I’m not correct, maybe I can get you thinking about this.

Here are the three words you should probably use to describe yourself, and in this order:

  1. CEO. Or entrepreneur. Or maybe business leader. You’re in the business of running a business, which means that you’re successful over the long term if you make enough of the big decisions correctly. You keep your finger on the pulse of your firm’s financial performance. You make the final decision on positioning. How big the firm gets is carefully considered. The management environment and culture are a reflection of what you believe. The health of the balance sheet and what’s left at the bottom of your income statement–none of which you’ve achieved at the expense of doing what’s right–would be a good reflection of the job that you’re doing. There might be a bad year here and there, but most years more than make up for those tough ones. You’re in charge, and your firm isn’t a hobby or even a job–it’s an enterprise. If you want to think more about that, try looking at these eight gauges on your dashboard.
  2. Leader/Manager. The best summary I can think of here is that you take care of your people so that they can take care of your clients. From their perspective, they’d evaluate the job you are doing by looking over their time with you to see what they’ve learned about work and life. You’ve consistently been the adult, spoken kindly into their confusion, and nudged their career in the right direction. You aren’t a baby-sitter and you aren’t an autocrat–something in the middle, where you truly embrace your role as a leader and manager. You can’t do this for more than six or eight people, though. Instead, you’re helping those six or eight people have the same sort of impact on the people in their circle. Here’s a recent podcast episode about how your management style impacts your team.
  3. Thinker. You’re in the business of developing your own IP, which is only possible if you build it on top of a strong positioning. This IP is used for clients and it’s used in your inbound lead generation efforts, and the distinction is almost impossible to see. They feed each other, and it’s how you can comfortably help with business development and high level strategy. But your job is not to solve individual client problems but to solve the same problem that many clients are struggling with. That’s the difference between meddling (working in your business) and IP development (working on your business). This sort of thinking that I’m urging you to do more of isn’t tied to a deadline or a fixed budget of hours. It’s also not something that you dread but something that excites you. You’re in the shower and come up with an idea and can’t wait to write it down and roll it around in your head for a bit. It starts with a few sentences and then you add a diagram and then you start talking to people about it and then you write it up on three pages and then you test it on a client and then you get the staff excited with you and then you think about how the proceeds from this one idea will fund your vacation home.

If you don’t have employees, the second (leader/manager) category is entirely optional, but you’ll still need to concentrate on no. 1 and no. 3, even if you don’t have employees.

Now I’m going to get tough on you. Look again at these three things and tell me why you can’t unplug from the business for weeks at a time. Tell me why you’re attending these boring meetings to get updates on client projects. Tell me why you look around a year later and haven’t made much progress. You should probably spend a lot less time working each day…and get a lot more done.

But only if you spend time on the right things. These three things, in this order, are the endless cycle of (business) life that you’re on. It’s really quite a remarkable opportunity that’s in front of you.

There are certain roles that only you can fill at your firm, and it’s a high calling indeed to be that sort of entrepreneur.

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