seat at the table

5 Steps To Getting A Seat At The Table (Where You Belong)

One of my favorite movies is the 1995 comedy Home for the Holidays. Claudia, played by Holly Hunter, heads to her childhood home for Thanksgiving with her dysfunctional family. If you haven’t seen this flick, I highly recommend that you do. Especially if at one time or another, you’ve found yourself back at home, being treated like the child you once were, and maybe even sitting at the kiddie table because there weren’t any more seats left for you to join the adults.

Somebody had to sit at the kids’ table. Was that you? Is it always you?

If you think about it, same sort of thing happens at work. A LOT of people vying for limited seating. And nobody seems to notice that for years, not only have you been standing on your own two feet, but you’ve been climbing the ladder in your chosen profession, step by step. Yet, here you are again, seemingly not good enough to share the same space with the big kids at the adults-only table.

We’ve all been there. Whether you’ve just started out in your career or you’ve been managing teams of people for years, what you want and have been working toward — your voice to be heard; to be recognized as a leader; and to be considered among the top decision-makers – eludes you. If this sounds like you, here are five steps to getting that seat at the table you REALLY want (and deserve) to be.

1. Use Your Fork and Knife

That’s right. Pick up the fork and knife and put them to use. Stop eating with your fingers and talking with your mouth full. Elevate your table manners.

Articulate your thoughts. Speak up, but not just to hear yourself talk. And make sure you actually have the knowledge the role requires in your tool box. If you don’t, then don’t expect to be spoon-fed.

Upgrade your skills. There’s wisdom to “paying your dues” and experience doesn’t happen overnight. Assess your industry, your colleagues, and yourself – objectively – and make sure that what you’ve got to offer is top shelf, belongs at the table, and is clearly made known to higher ups.

2. Pull Up Your Big Girl Pants

If you want to get a seat at the table, pull up your big girl pants and take it. No one’s going to lift you up to get into the seat where you belong. Likewise, you have to belong. That means conducting yourself like a leader and contributing to the greater good and goals of the company. Consistently. And humbly.

It also means welcoming other ideas and opposition from colleagues and being able to work collaboratively on solutions that still hold true to you and who you are, but that may not always be your bright idea.

The more you expect to be rewarded for what may just be mediocre performance, and the more you shun ideas because they didn’t come from you, the less your chances of stepping up to a better seat in the house.

3. Pick Up Your Toys

…and move on. If you’ve come to the conclusion that no matter what you bring to the table, you’ll never get a seat with the big boys, maybe you need another table to sit at.

If you’re in an environment that practices, well, unfair practices, or that perceives thought leadership as stepping out of line, or that just isn’t ready for all you have to offer, you may be kept at the kiddie table on purpose.

So why stay where you’re not appreciated and most likely not wanted? Be at peace with the fact that you’ve graduated, and they’re still in kindergarten. Pick up your toys and move on to a position that’s more at your level.

4. Bring Your Signature Dish

If your desire to have a seat at the table is purely for status or paycheck purposes, then even if you get it, you won’t be happy or fulfilled. At least not for very long.

A smarter strategy is to figure out what makes you you. Spend some time thinking about you and your unique gifts. What’s YOUR signature dish? What do you and only you have to offer? Why is what you have to offer complementary to the organization’s overall flavor combination?

Embrace who you are and shift your perspective to one where they need you on the menu more than you need to serve up your best on theirs.    

5. Make Sure Your Table’s Set

Yes, you want a seat at the table. Sure, you’ve given it your all and then some. True, you’ve shifted and climbed from one job to the next, but never quite have gotten priority seating. If that’s the case, here’s a thought for you to consider: Maybe the reason you haven’t yet gotten that seat at the table is because you’re at the wrong table. And maybe you’re at the wrong table because your table hasn’t even been set yet. Why…? Because you’re the one who’s supposed to set it.

There comes a time when no other table but your own is the one at which you are meant to be seated. Stop wasting any more of your time and energy on being asked to sit elsewhere. Be the head of your own table, set it up the way you want, and invite whomever you believe deserves a place with you to share your vision and the fruits of your own team’s labors.

If during this past year you’ve found yourself – at home or at the office – sitting again among the toddlers and teens, give some thought to any one of these five steps and make a plan to make sure your next year’s gatherings have you seated at the table you really want (and deserve) to be.

P.S. If you’re ready to move on up and claim your spot at the table, my Cube to Corner Office Career Coaching may be just what you’re craving!


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