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Work Life Lead: Is Showing Up Enough?


It has been said that 90% of leadership is showing up. No longer.

It is only about 50% now.

What’s the other 50%?


It used to be that participating was all that was necessary for an event or a business or a life to work. Just show up and be there. We measured the effectiveness of an event, for example, by the number of people who showed up. No longer.

A decade ago, who we knew was a strategic asset that opened doors and created value. Still is today. I still ask people who do they think I need to know. However, things are changing, and the world is not quite like it was.

Building a network of influential relationships was how we approached creating a competitive advantage in the market place. As social media emerged as the default tool for networking, participating and relating became nothing more than having lots of followers. It became a numbers game. It is a game that everyone on the planet can play, and are. You know everyone is participating when you have 90 year old friends on Facebook. And what’s fun is to connect them up with your 25 year old friends.

When the late adopters begin to participate, the game has changed. The value of having a large, widely dispersed network is changing. Numbers still matter, but not in the same way. If everyone is doing the same thing, how do we differentiate ourselves? It can’t be by numbers. It can only be by what we can make those numbers do.

By showing up, are we just taking up space? Will your 5,000 Facebook friends make a contribution to your favorite charity because you ask them? Will they buy a book by your favorite author if you ask them? Are they hiring you because they are part of your network?

This is what Seth Godin has been writing and talking about for over a decade, starting with his Releasing the Idea Virus and culminating with Tribes and Linchpin. In essence, it isn’t enough to just show up, just to participate. We need to make a contribution. We need to make a difference that matters.

We contribute by spreading ideas, helping people to have an impact and by building social networks and organizations that have an opportunity to flourish and find sustainability.

Being able to turn your network into contributors is a measure of influence. We gain that through our own contributions to our network. We earn the right to ask by contributing.

Just showing up can be a very passive approach to life and work. We show up do what we are asked, hang out, color inside the lines, don’t make waves, leave at 5, rinse, repeat, rinse, dry and begin again the next day.  It isn’t a life that is destined for remembrance.

In the 2002 film, The Emperor’s Club, Kevin Kline, a professor of history at a boarding school at the beginning of the term points to a plaque over the door that reads: “I am Shutruk Nahunte, King Anshand and Sussa, sovereign of the land of Elam. By command of Ishushinck I destroyed Sippar, took the stele of Niran-Sin, and brought it back to Elam, where I erected it as an offering to my god, Inshushink.”

He then tells his students that they will not find Shutruk Nahunte in their history books. Why? Nahunte was virtually forgotten because he made no contribution that would last beyond his lifetime.

He then tells his students “Ambition and conquest without contribution is without significance.” This is his introduction to the study of the ancient Greeks and Romans whose influence and contribution lives on into our day.

It is important to participate, but more important to contribute. To give, to make a difference that matters, to be a person that can be counted on to help make things happen.

As our world becomes more socially interconnected, the measure of a person will be determined more and more by their contribution.

I heard long ago that their are three kinds of people in the world.

There are those who make things happen.

Those who watch things happen.

And there are those who scratch their heads and wonder “What happened?!”

Many people have found themselves during the past couple years scratching their heads wondering where their job, their future and the life they were living went. For many of them, they lived by the principle of just showing up and doing what was expected.

What we now know is that approach to life and work no longer works. Just showing up, just participating is a recipe for insignificance, irrelevance and the loss of our dreams.

I am convinced that the future belongs to the contributors.

This means that it isn’t the numbers of Facebook or Twitter followers that you have. It isn’t the job title you have, or who you know, or who knows you that truly matters.

Instead, it is your contribution that does. Where are you making a difference that matters? How do you know this? How can you build upon it? Your contribution is tied to your talent, your character, your social and occupational place in the world and most importantly to your values, your purpose and the quality of your relationships.

So, what will it be? A Watcher, a Head-Scratcher, or are you going to make things happen by being a person who contributes? What will be your legacy? What will last beyond your passing?

There is no greater time than now for people to decide to be contributors. The opportunities and means for us to make a difference that matters is there for all of us. Our contribution begins with our own initiative, our own decision to step forward and make a difference that matters.

What will be your contribution today?

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About the author

Dr. Ed Brenegar I'm a leadership speaker, writer and consultant who is a mentor and catalyst for change. I assist leaders and their teams in the transitions required to succeed in today's complex organizational environment. I live in Western North Carolina. I'm involved the Boy Scouts, a charitable leadership training group called Lessons In Leadership, an ordained Presbyterian Church USA minister, and am the host of the Say Thanks Every Day social network.

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Posted in General Leadership, Leadership Q + A, Work Life Lead.

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