I remember facilitating a partner meeting a while back. There was a tableful of firm partners dealing with issues that needed resolution. About half way through, I noticed that one partner never raised a question, never made a comment, never offered an idea, never supported or opposed anything. All he did was quietly sit in his chair. And eat his donut.
About three-quarters of the way through the meeting, I put him on the spot and asked if he had anything to add. All he could muster was to agree with something someone said. Not surprising, but disappointing. He was a smart guy who had thoughts and opinions that would have enriched the conversation. But he chose to hide behind his reluctant style and not contribute.
Come to find out, he enjoyed the status of being invited to the meeting. He was proud of the title “Partner” on his business card and being listed among the leaders on the firm’s website. But he really didn’t contribute much.
And it should be no surprise. He was like this all through his career and was promoted anyway. He learned that it was ok that others to carry the heavy lifting of sorting through the tough issues and proposing the hard decisions, while he observed.
Don’t get me wrong—he worked hard. He was good at what he did and his clients thought he was good; sometimes really good. The staff liked working with him because he was patient and took the time to invest in their development. He just wasn’t up for the leadership responsibility to move the firm forward.
As you continue in your career, regardless of your aspiration, learn how to engage. Don’t wait to be asked, invited or requested to contribute. Find ways—effective ways—to add value and are willing to put yourself out there. Make your presence felt and known. And don’t just eat the donuts.