Your North Star Keeps You Grounded

Molly Miller, chief content officer

Employees have to navigate rough seas these days. The typical corporate organization is a matrix of not only functions but personalities and approaches. How can you be sure that you get aligned to both your hard lines and dotted lines to provide the most value to your company?

One of my mentors taught me years ago that it takes greater leadership skills to lead people who don’t report to you than manage those who do. Why? Because you use your insights and ability to inspire rather than your official authority. Perhaps the lesson there is to pretend that no one reports to you but you have to still accomplish all your goals—I bet your leadership skills take a developmental leap.

What’s interesting about the matrix is that it puts more responsibility on every employee. There is not a sole leader at the top of the hierarchy who is responsible if we don’t succeed. We’re all accountable in a matrix. The lines going in multiple directions rather than a simple hierarchy demonstrate the complexity but also the multiple ways we are all responsible to get it right.

But the matrix is often disorienting for employees. I have seen teams get confused when the various leaders they work with have different styles, approaches, even belief systems. In thinking about this, I have decided that this is not only OK; it’s even good for your development. It’s a luxury to have one leader whose approaches you know so well you can work independently and know that you are pretty much always in sync. It’s another to not be so sure and to be a little unsettled trying to figure it out. You’ll find yourself focusing on collaboration and communication. You’ll seek creative ways to align by function and department. You’ll discover new ways of solving problems and your unease might lead you to explore solutions that you would otherwise not need to pursue.

But you’re probably asking—how do I keep my sanity with so much ambiguity? And as you most likely know, being adept at handling ambiguity is a key attribute of a valuable employee. But sanity is also critical!

So my advice is to think about your North Star. No matter who your hard line and dotted line leaders are, know what is right for you and for your team and don’t compromise that. Usually that means always staying collaborative, assuming that every leader and team member wants to do their best, and over-communicating so that no team, no manager, no individual in or out of your matrix is left behind. Don’t engage in politics; don’t align with the less collaborative approach. Stay focused on your North Start and don’t ever let it fade too far from sight.

I’ve seen this work over and over during the last 20 years. Your first step is defining your North Star. I’d love to hear what you think about when you think of those enduring approaches and values that you find critical to making you the best you can be in the matrix.

Molly Miller

Chief Content Officer, ALM, Molly is responsible for leading the integrated editorial organization to develop synergies between industries, identify new monetization opportunities and engage critical audiences. Since joining ALM in 2012, Molly has held several leadership positions, including Publisher of The Recorder and, Chief Content & Product Officer and Chief Marketing Officer. Previously, she held marketing, editorial market planning and product champion roles at Lexis Nexis after practicing law in Cincinnati and reporting for the Cincinnati Enquirer.