What’s Your Role?

Where are you in the org chart?

bad org chart

It’s a funny question in 21st century America. Why the hell should it matter? Am I valuable? Can I help you?

John Havlicek

John Havlicek

Growing up in Boston I saw the end of the career of John Havilcek. He is commonly thought of as the greatest sixth man in NBA history (especially in Boston). If you’re not familiar with that term, it was a concept that hall of fame coach Red Auerbach came up with. He would use a superb player in a “off the bench” role, supporting the starting five.

John Havileck was great. He was the first player to scored over 1,000 every year of his (16 year) career. Red Auerbach called him the “guts of the team”.

What Red Aurebach, the Boston Celtics and the rest of the NBA figured out, Havileck didn’t fit into a traditional basketball team org chart, He was a special case. He did his best work as an outlier. He helped his team win 8 NBA titles as a sixth man. He made it into the basketball hall of fame as someone who bucked the system.

Sometimes the most valuable people in your organization don’t fit so nicely into the pre-built pigeon holes that you have had in place the last 20 years. Babe Ruth was a great pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, but that’s not what he’s remembered as. He’s remembered for fundamentally changing the game, and essentially saving it.

That’s Not My Department

I run an SEO department at Virante Search Marketing. I try to always get opinions from outside my department. When someone offers help, I usually reply with, “hellz yes”. The reason it’s easy for me to not get overwhelmed by an org chart is that I never fit into one myself.

In high school as soon as I made the team as a catcher, I was bugging the coach to let me pitch. As soon as I got hired as a web developer I was bugging the marketing team with SEO ideas. When I talk to SEO clients, I end up talking about content marketing, customer service and social media.

I once heard a very smart woman use the phrase “make heroes of the brave“. It has become one of my guiding ideas. I know there are people who love the structure and defend their org chart like it’s a feudal kingdom and you are some type of barbarian, but don’t give up. The barbarians always triumph in the end.



  1. Phil,
    Good post. A challenge is that so many folks want to be in the limelight, where the credit is, that they don’t realize the value and freedom that comes with being an outlier. Being the ‘sixth man’ isn’t seen as glamorous enough, I’m afraid.

  2. Brandon Jozwiak says:

    Good words – I like your style as described in the second-to-last paragraph. I’m inspired by stories of people “stumbling” upon great businesses, roles, and ideas simply by being open-minded and versatile. Very cool. Thanks.

    • Thanks Brandon. It’s easy to say things like, “it’s not my job” or “you’re not in my department”, but much harder to accept help with an open mind and eye toward making something special, something remarkable.

  3. Agreed–unofficial or semi-official positions are great, because then you can make them whatever you want them to be.

    In a previous role, I turned a project manager job offer into starting as the digital marketing agency’s first head of client service, ultimately increasing productivity by 20% by creating a new project management team.

    As the head of Collegiate Relations for a marketing trade association, my board role doesn’t have a specific definition (most similar groups don’t even have that role). I’ve made the position my own–building a team, creating what will eventually becoming a $100K endowed scholarship program, and breaking records in reaching more students than ever before.

    The lack of specific expectations means I have the freedom to recruit great team members by aligning their goals and the organization’s goals. I work hard to minimize bureaucracy within my group, streamlining the process for my team. As long as we’re helping the organization and helping marketing students, anything we do is on-mission.

    • Great point Karl, just one of the reasons I think you will soon be heading up General Electric. Managers and employees alike have to stop looking at the hurdles and start focusing on the finish line.

      People like you will always be in high demand because of your special skill. It’s a skill so rare it is almost extinct – the ability to stop talking about something and actually put it into action.

      I was thinking about this very ability this week as the US congress made a decision by their inaction. Student loan rates went up because nobody in congress wants to actually be tied to any votes any more. They let the courts and timelines make their decisions so they don’t offend anyone. Well, their inability to commit offends me… let me know if I got of topic ;-)

  4. Maria Mayorga says:

    Hey Phil!

    Great post and something you would have loved hearing about at Mozcon! Rand made this a large part of his presentation and he said “We often let our title influence our role. We should instead let our influence define our role”. Something that definitely stuck with me!

    Great post!!

Leave a Reply