Time to Approach the Boss about a Different Seat

Keith Martino

March 15, 2019

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Jenn boards Southwest Flight 690 from Dallas Love Field to LaGuardia.

There aren't many passengers aboard the plane this morning. She understands why. It seems painfully early.

As Jenn strolls down the aisle, she is delighted to find her favorite exit seat available. After experiencing unexpected drama in airport security, she wants to slip away into quiet anonymity far from TSA scrutiny. But, just as Jenn settles into her comfy spot, the flight attendant presses the intercom button and asks several passengers to do something unconscionable.

The attendant asks them to move.

Move? No thanks.

Jenn feels her day spiraling south, and it isn't even 6:00 a.m.

She's tempted to slip her headphones on and feign deep sleep. She considers denying that she understands English, her native tongue. She even ponders whether they might believe her seatbelt latch is inexplicably stuck.

She feels certain of one thing: she isn't about to move. It isn't fair.

But then she hears a soft voice from a familiar past. And she remembers every airline's weight and balance precautions from her former FedEx career. The folks at FedEx are meticulous about loading every aircraft properly. Tremendous importance is placed on having each plane evenly balanced for optimum safety and efficiency. And while this 737 seems massive, a disproportionate cluster of passengers in the middle of the plane still matters. An improper balance will compromise the plane's performance.

You see, Jenn is on the right plane, but in the wrong seat from the captain's perspective.

What does this have to do with the balance of talent on your team?

Over the years, Jenn has seen a lot of managers and employees in the "wrong seat" on the right plane.

They loved their technology company. They were loyal. They were committed. But they weren't suited to perform best in the role they were assigned. And in most cases, they weren't having fun.

It happens often. And it often happens for good reason.

Take Jenn's friend, Steve, for instance.

Steve is an extraordinarily talented applications developer. Clients love him. Competitors fear him. And he was always being recognized for solving tough challenges for customers. In fact, Steve is so good, the president of his company promoted him to run the IT department.

That's when Steve's life fell apart.

And then there was Jenn's buddy, Brian, from Chicago.

Brian is a good plant manager. But it was mostly because he inherited a solid team. Brian's CEO assumed that since Brian is a competent plant manager, he'd make a great chief operating officer.

That was when Brian's world caved in.

And Jenn remembers her neighbor, JT. JT was, at one time, a pretty good lawyer. Then he decided to go run his family company's largest branch office in order to gain operating experience.

It wasn't a pretty picture.

Profitability plummeted. Employees quit. And the best managers under JT began dusting off their resumes.

Jenn could list others with similar "seating" dilemmas, but I'm sure you get the point.

Which brings us to the question:

Is it time to talk with the boss about finding a more valuable way to contribute to your team?

You may not be certain you're in the right seat on your company plane. If that's the case, take a proactive approach. You'll be glad you did.

Here are five angles to consider. (Yes = 2 Pts / No = 0 Pts / Not Sure = 1 Pt)

Respond honestly to gauge if you are in the right role to achieve maximum success.

1. I'm having fun in my current position. ____ pts

2. I experience consistent, measurable success. ____ pts

3. My boss expresses appreciation for my work. ____ pts

4. Teammates express appreciation of my role. ____ pts

5. Relationships with co-workers improve daily. ____ pts


7+ Pts = Congratulations. You will likely be successful in this position.

5–6 Pts = Talk with management about what you can do to prepare for a different role. Explain that you want to contribute in the most beneficial way. Perhaps reconsider a prior role where you excelled.

1–4 Pts = Your days may be numbered unless something changes. Look for another position in your existing company ASAP.

Now let's look at your potential move from 30,000 feet.

When you're in the right seat on the plane, the results and enjoyment are obvious to everyone. You feel the momentum of your contribution, and you're often surprised by how receptive teammates and management appear to be.

When you are in the wrong seat, life and work become a drag on your enjoyment. It may take time in your company to find a different role where you can succeed, but it's worth the effort.

The morning that Jenn boarded Flight 690 to New York, she wasn't considering how she might be impacting the safety and flight balance of the Southwest aircraft.

Once she made the timely decision to move to another seat, everyone seemed at ease. And she had a fantastic flight. The number one rule in aviation is, "Fly safely, every flight!"

Perhaps now is the best time for you to change seats.

Keith Martino, author of Expect Leadership, has a passion for helping women business owners achieve stellar results.Martino is head of CMI, a global consultancy founded in 1999 that customizes leadership and sales development initiatives. Martino is the author of Expect Leadership, a series of four leadership books—The Executive Edition, in Business, in Engineering, and in Technology. He has also published three sales handbooks, Get Results, Results Now, and Selling to Americans. After more than 20 years and numerous awards at FedEx, Xerox, and Baxter Healthcare, Martino and his team were recently featured in an article published by Women in Technology International.

Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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