To play a supporting role well, prioritize the work and the team’s mission.
What comes to mind when you imagine a career as an actor? If it’s top billing in every production, you’re not alone. Most people want to be the star of the show – the important one with more power than anyone else.
But we can’t all play the lead, just like we can’t all be the boss at work. Instead, we have separate roles: for leading actors and supporting cast, and for managers and subordinates.
For these settings to work as they should, everyone – including the supporting players – has to play their role. This gives those in supporting roles power of their own, and using that power well means knowing how to nail the part.
The key message here is: To play a supporting role well, prioritize the work and the team’s mission.
In any group or organization, there’s usually a big-picture goal that everyone is working toward. Each role is designed to help get closer to that goal.
And yet people often see subordinate roles as stepping stones to something bigger for themselves. This is a mistake. When you occupy a role, your aim should be to create positive results for the group.
This mindset earns you the trust of peers and higher-ups, and can also lead to bigger opportunities in the future. More than that, when you’re focused on the mission and not your status, you can easily spot roles with potential for impact.
Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, learned this when she almost missed a chance to join Google because she felt the role was too small. The advice that changed her mind was simple but spot-on: when you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, you don’t ask which seat, you just get on board.
In addition to focusing on the mission, you can also build trust by prioritizing your responsibilities or your craft. When you do this, you show that you’re more concerned with making a valuable contribution than getting recognition.
It’s the same when you take one for the team, perhaps by volunteering to put in extra hours to make sure your project meets its deadline. Paying attention to what the group needs and making personal sacrifices to help fulfill those needs increases trust and elevates your status.