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leadership lab

This column is part of Globe Careers' new Leadership Lab series, where executives and leadership experts share their views and advice about the leadership and management issues of today. There will be a new column every weekday. Find all Leadership Lab stories at

It's our nature as human beings to want to leave our mark or, as Steve Jobs put it, "dent the universe." Yet many of us have come to the conclusion that the mark we'll leave in a large company doesn't produce a very satisfying dent. Which leaves us to choose between being a "Dentee," a "Dentor," or a "Smith." Let me explain.

Dentees are those among us who have decided to let others make the dents. Most often, Dentees work for someone else, and may well do an exemplary job, but essentially stay within their job descriptions. There's nothing wrong with this approach to work and Dentees can be completely passionate about the work they do – they keep their company's wheels turning, while subscribing to the "I work so I can live" view of life. Dentees are more often the ones who experience the dents that others impose on the universe.

Dentors are individuals who have decided that they want to make a dent in the universe by taking advantage of the resources that the company they work for has. They are often entrepreneurial-minded, but are not inclined to take the significant risk that "going it alone" incurs – at least, not yet. Often called "intrapreneurs," these people figure out how to avoid the corporate immune system while they champion new approaches to their business. Success is not guaranteed. As it is with their kindred spirits, the entrepreneurs, the risk of failure looms large and staying one step ahead of that risk can be very motivating (and for some, intoxicating). But when success does come, it can be big and career-defining. Many Dentors fail several times before they succeed, so thick skin is a prerequisite.

And finally, Smiths are those who need to create. You can sometimes find them within larger companies, but more often they are the entrepreneurs who find company structures too limiting, and who choose to strike out on their own so that they can create in their own image. These are the people who are becoming heroes of the modern age – Steve Jobs, Sergey Brin, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg – and who more and more people are looking to as a salve to our sideways economies. And yet there are millions of (as yet) unheralded Smiths who are making much smaller dents in their local communities and markets, but whose dents are no less significant from a global perspective. Collectively, Smiths hold the promise of bootstrapping entire countries into the next golden age of full employment.

Over the next several months, I'll be taking a look in this column at Dentors and Smiths who have made a difference, and how they've done it, so that we can learn from them. As well, we'll look at the need for support systems inside and outside of business to equip and encourage Dentors and Smiths in their dent-defining pursuits. It's on the backs of these people that the rest of us will ride, so that our lives can benefit from the marks they make. Let's give them our attention.

Drew Williams (@FeedYourBeast) is a serial marketing entrepreneur and co-author of Feed the Startup Beast: A 7-Step Guide to Big, Hairy, Outrageous Sales Growth. Read more at