Ambitious in an Agile world

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I was working with a group of junior but ambitious people recently, and we debated how to overcome the constraints of hierarchical structures. Being told that you cannot progress because you aren’t senior enough doesn’t feel right in our more agile working environments.

So if you have great ideas and the energy and enthusiasm to implement them but keep hearing NO, what can you do?

The idea that we felt had the most long term impact for career development was building status through expertise not seniority.

Expertise = Credibility

With so much change taking place there is a lot of risk, uncertainty and fear of blame. To minimise risk, it is always easier to listen to the most well-informed person in the room.

Expertise conveys a form of credibility, just as seniority confers credibility. Those with authority take note of those that they believe have the “right” answer. 

The problem the ambitious but junior person has, is that there is an assumption that the more senior a person, the more capable they are, so they are the voice to listen to. Robert Cialdini in his excellent work Persuasion, explains that humans don’t make rational decisions, they make decisions based on short cuts:


To overcome this short cut, replace it with another one – the most credible, qualified, well-informed person in the room is the one with the “right” answers. So becoming the one that others turn to is within your grasp. If you can put the effort in, you can become a thought leader in your field.

Build your expertise

Develop you expertise so you can build your credibility:

  • Broaden your perspective and learn from others by developing your ideas with other professionals outside of your immediate circle at work – this is why I founded the Change Community, hosting virtual networking for change professionals
  • Post question and your ideas on LinkedIn groups, ask for feedback and respond to comments
  • Comment on articles on websites relevant to your industry
  • Attend webinars and ask questions and share your thoughts in the chat
  • Take time to write up your ideas to share at work and on social media – a short presentation at a team meeting will give you the opportunity to order your thoughts, learn lessons by assembling your arguments and add to your original concept – just like I am doing here!
  • Attend conferences in person and on-line to broaden your knowledge and have something fresh and interesting to talk about to your colleagues and your senior leaders.
  • Get as many qualifications as you possibly can because this is a form of external recognition of your knowledge.
  • Apply for awards – don’t let imposter syndrome stop you from applying. What is the worst that can happen? You don’t get short listed? But you had a chance to reflect on a piece of work, write it up as a submission you can talk through in your next performance review!

Let others know what you know

But there will be no increase in your credibility if you don’t make your achievements clear. However, this has to be done sensitively as no-one likes a show-off.

  • Make sure your on-line profiles at work and on the internet are regularly updated with your achievements.
  • Take any and every opportunity to speak at your organisation and at industry forums.
  • Encourage your team to submit their work for awards – industry magazines and professional bodies have many categories for projects.
  • Offer to host lunch and learn sessions at your organisation to share ideas and develop your internal network of like minded enthusiasts.
  • Arrange for external speakers to come in and talk to you and your colleagues, making sure you invite senior leaders who can benefit from the event you have organised.


I know this sounds like a lot of hard work but it’s a lot more fun to be proactive and take control of your career than to wait until someone notices you!