02/13/2015 09:59 am ET Updated Apr 15, 2015

A Secret Strategy for New Professionals That Want to Drive Change

Almost every time I give a keynote on innovation, I am asked by a new professional (or two, or three..) about how they can go about driving change in their organization from the "bottom of the totem pole." The secret to accomplishing leadership from an entry or mid-level position can often be found in the "unwanted" tasks.

I drove change (as a new professional) in my organization simply by being the one that made the meeting agendas. Few senior level staffers have time to write the agenda for meetings, so it's a task that is often up for grabs for newbies. While I would rather be doing some other creative or fun task, I soon realized that by creating the agenda, I was able to shape the organization's to-do list and in some ways the culture of the organization.

Changing the culture...

One thing I noticed about our meetings when I first started, was that we were always using meetings to spit things out that could have easily been spit out in an email. So when I took the reigns of planning the agenda, I would add in other items that had more to do with discussing our purpose, or prompts to check in with the team on a more personal level. If you want to change the culture of your organization, these little agenda items may seems too small to make a difference, but I promise you they are not. Face to face time is very valuable, by focusing your meetings on the "meat" of your organization and not just the day to day stuff you can maximize that valuable time you spend together each week/month. You may get some push back on this. People think that if the meeting isn't focused on the to-do list, it's not worth their time. I'd argue that if more organizations focused on their purpose during meetings, and less on their to-do list, they'd see double or triple the productivity. When everyone knows the purpose, they are much more likely to buy in to it, and they'll work harder to achieve the organization's shared goals. Don't believe me? Watch this TED talk from Simon Sinek about the power of "why" in an organization.

The keys to the organization's to-do list...

We often think that the positional leader of the organization (ie. the CEO, president or department chair) is the one in charge of the organization's strategy and outputs. While they may write the strategic plan or mission statement, they may not necessarily be the one driving the actual outputs of the organization. The to-do list is often driven by the organization's meeting agendas. If you write the agenda, you hold a very important responsibility and privilege. If you don't maximize the opportunity, then the status quo will continue on business as usual. However, if you take this task on as an opportunity to create change you will start to see opportunities to gradually and strategically bring up new ideas and initiatives for the organization to discuss. You hold the keys. Don't waste the opportunity, and don't take advantage of it either. Maximize it.

In sum...

Never doubt the power of taking on unwanted tasks. If you want to create change in your organization, you won't always be handed opportunities to lead the charge. You need to seek out these opportunities. Those that write agendas, type the notes at meetings, and design trainings have an incredible opportunity to steer the ship. Often these are overlooked and not seen as being important visionary work. They are left for the young professionals to take on. Look for ways to insert yourself into these organizational tasks and projects. This isn't a quick trick to push your own agenda. People will sniff that out quickly and you'll lose out on any future opportunities. Be a good listener and a good teammate. Combine those two important traits with an eagerness to carry out these unwanted tasks, and you will have an excellent opportunity to drive change in your organization. If you are a supervisor, reward good hard working new professionals in your organization with an opportunity to take the lead on some of these items. Provide them autonomy and be open to their ideas, even if it's not the way you would have done it.