“The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.”
~ Coco Chanel ~
Casey is facing a dilemma. She has always considered herself a leader. And she’s always been considered a leader by others. At work, she consistently brings out the best in her people by encouraging them, listening to them, empowering them, and letting them know they are important and that their opinions matter.
Lately, however, Casey has become The Reluctant Leader. She feels she is not being noticed for all her hard work and accomplishments. Yet she doesn’t feel comfortable bragging, talking about how great she is, or publicly calling attention to all her accomplishments.
In recent meetings and encounters with her boss and other C-level employees, she is consciously choosing not to speak up when she knows she should. She wonders if she’s just come down with a temporary case of shyness, or if this has the potential to become a real problem. In discussing it with me, Casey lists these reasons for her reluctance:
- I’m afraid of stepping on peoples’ toes
- I feel like people know my strengths and they should ask for my input
- Sometimes I feel like punishing people for not listening to me by letting them struggle and find the answers on their own
- I even think sometimes that I have the wrong answer and don’t want to embarrass myself by speaking up.
As Casey’s coach, I concluded that she had probably become a bit too comfortable in her comfort zone. Sometimes it’s easy to figure that “once a leader, always a leader,” so you quit trying to raise your visibility with the bosses. I offered Casey this checklist of ideas to jump start the raising of her profile.
- Volunteer for a high visibility project. Look for something that has serious consequences at the senior management level, or that has been perceived to be challenging or risky by others. Focus on something with real results, including bottom line impact.
- Find cross – departmental opportunities that will expand both your horizons and your visibility. If you work in accounting, look for a project in sales, marketing, or communications. If you work in sales, look for ways to get a thorough understanding of the support functions in the company. It will make you a better sales manager and your superiors will notice your initiative.
- If you have a bright idea or an answer to some recurring problem, look for the right occasion to speak up, preferably in a meeting where top brass are present. Volunteer to make it happen too—don’t just leave it on the table.
Don’t wait until you feel comfortable to start changing your approach. Nobody’s perfect, and even if you implement all these action items, you’ll make mistakes along the way. Don’t let that discourage you. Just dust yourself off and keep talking.
Casey implemented all these ideas over the next month, and found that her reluctance to speak up all but disappeared and she was once again the leader she thought herself to be.
Make a list of where and how you could implement each of these ideas. Then start implementing them this week.
Talkback: Have you successfully raised your visibility at work? What ideas worked for you? Share your experience here.
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“I feel that the greatest reward for doing is the opportunity to do more.”
~ Jonas Salk ~
Client Leanne Asks: I’ve positioned myself well by creating a number of opportunities which can raise my visibility with my firms’ leaders. Now I’m stuck in the middle. I have to execute on all the new work, build and maintain my pipeline of new projects, and do my actual day job besides. My concern is that I don’t have the band-width or energy to do all these things at once. How do I optimize the time I spend on the high visibility items?
Coach Joel Answers: What got you here won’t get you there. Do the job you want, not the job you have. Here’s the way I see it: You put a lot of things out there that you could work on – projects that have high visibility and put you in the public eye as far as your superiors are concerned. You volunteered for a number of things, thinking only one or two would come through, but instead you ended up with three new assignments. Now what?
These are all projects that will help you in your career with the company because you are creating opportunities to interact with people in other departments and show them how talented and how great you are. Your new projects not only have visibility, they also add influence, impact and value to the firm.
Here’s what I would do: Create a three-column chart on your computer. Lay out all your responsibilities and ask yourself what HAS to get done. What do you need to be doing to continue your success at your current baseline level so you don’t throw up any red flags? You might have one third that has to get done on your current job, one third that relates to the job you want to have—that is your visibility stuff, and the last third is the stuff you might be able to get rid of, or put less importance on. This will equate to more time and energy for the things that count. Think about ways you can eliminate work or delegate to someone else.
And here’s the way to approach the delegation piece of it. Present it as a training process—you’re not only moving ahead in the company, you’re training someone else to follow in your footsteps and learn important pieces of your job, so nothing will be left undone when you move to the next level.
In order to keep moving up the ladder as you want to do, you must do three things simultaneously:
- You must understand what your superiors need and want, not just from you but for the future of the company. And you must understand where you fit into that plan.
- You must empower your subordinates. That’s where the training piece we talked about comes into play.
- You must build relationships with your peers. You’re all on the same team, and when you help other people win, you win too.
If you can do those three things, you’ll increase your visibility and reach the next level sooner than you think.
Are you stuck between the job you have and the job you want? Implement our three-part model this week to determine how you can create more high visibility assignments that will move you to the next level.
Talkback: Have you successfully moved to a higher level of your organization? What did you do to increase your visibility with your superiors? Share your experience here.
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“The power of visibility can never be underestimated.”
~ Margaret Cho ~
Rosie has been with her company for a little less than a year. Last month she had a very positive performance review with Jake, her immediate boss. During the review, Rosie told Jake that she felt she could handle a bigger workload, and Jake seemed to agree, but nothing happened.
Yesterday Rosie found out that Jan, a co-worker with the same job title she has, was promoted—and it’s been only a year since her last promotion. Rosie knows Jan earned it, but now she’s wondering how to ask for a similar opportunity to prove herself. Rosie wonders if she should have been more aggressive in her review with Jake and in following up afterward. Of course Jan’s promotion is unrelated to Rosie’s performance, but now Rosie wants to ask for larger-scale projects and more important work without seeming like she’s jealous or resentful of Jan.
If, like Rosie, you’re feeling stifled at work and would like to take on more responsibility and get promoted, Step One is to share your aspirations openly and specifically with your boss. Don’t be shy. Ask your boss exactly what you need to do to get promoted. The more clarity you have on the specific steps you should take, the easier it will be for you to take action and achieve your goals. Over the next three to six months, schedule time every two to four weeks to discuss your progress.
Here are some of the questions Rosie asked Jake:
- How does the promotion process work?
- What do I need to be doing over the next three to six months to get promoted?
- What kind of data or information can I provide you to document my progress?
- What larger-scale projects can I own right now?
- Do I need to increase my visibility with other decision-makers to improve my chances for promotion?
When it comes to visibility with other company leaders, especially C-level managers, Jake had some specific suggestions for Rosie. In addition to taking on larger scale projects, Jake suggested Rosie look for projects outside her own specific area, particularly projects that were being neglected or that no one wanted to do. Completing an “orphaned” project successfully is a great way to gain visibility. Jake also suggested that Rosie look for one or more advocates, either inside or outside the company who would be willing to speak up on her behalf. An advocate can easily raise your profile with your boss’s boss and other high level executives by publicizing your successes.
Rosie took Jake’s advice and developed her game plan. She volunteered to head up the company’s web site revamp—a project that had been languishing for a year for lack of leadership. She completed it successfully in less than three months, and both Jake and her recently recruited advocate made sure everyone—including the company president—knew what she had done. It was no surprise that Rosie got that coveted promotion at her next performance review.
If you’ve been passed over for a promotion, or even if you’d just like to take on more challenges where you are, now is the time to act. Develop a list of five actions you could take immediately to improve your visibility. Then schedule a meeting with your boss to discuss them.
Talkback: Have you successfully improved your visibility in your company? How did you do it? Share your experience here.
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“Leaders aren’t born they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal.”
~ Vince Lombardi ~
Geoffrey’s been totally focused on doing the best job he can. He’s been very intent on making sure his job gets done, and done right. He felt sure this would help him advance his career more quickly.
But when his boss didn’t seem to value Geoffrey’s contributions, he got concerned. What did his boss really want? Why wasn’t doing his job, good enough?
His goal was executive leadership. To do that, he realized he needed to make some changes.
He needed to make sure his work corresponded with the priorities of his boss and of the CEO.
Here are four things Geoffrey did to align his views with the current executive leadership.
- Assess. Spend time thinking about what the CEO might be thinking about. Put yourself into his place. What do you think keeps him awake at night? What worries him? What are the challenges he faces? When you look through his eyes you get a sense of what his priorities are and where he’s focusing his attention.
- Interact. Communicate with other peers and listen to their sense of what is important in the company. Geoffrey needed to get beyond just his work. He needed to reach out and connect with others. As he asked their views on the top goals and values of the company he did two things.
First, he learned what to focus on to make his work valuable to his boss and move his career forward. Second he showed respect and interest in the opinions and leadership views of others. As he engaged them, they came to know and trust him as well. He widened his sphere of influence.
- Ask. Geoffrey was direct. He asked his boss and the CEO what their values and priorities were. He did this during meeting times in a public arena. He also requested weekly or monthly one-on-one feedback times. During those times, he discussed the company and CEO priorities and how he could best align his job with those priorities.
- Communicate. Based on the feedback Geoffrey got from peers and boss, he formulated a plan. He wrote down the work he needed to do and how it supported the priorities of the boss. Then he shared it with his boss—and the CEO, as in the case of Geoffrey’s small company—for their feedback.
This increased his visibility with the boss and the CEO. It showed Geoffrey was concerned about giving value to the company and making his work productive and effective. It also allowed for corrections quickly and easily if Geoffrey’s assessment was off course.
When Geoffrey started implementing this plan of action, he saw immediate results. He focused his efforts on the things that really mattered to the boss and CEO and received high praise. His interactions with his peers harvested trust and acceptance. Geoffrey is acting like an executive leader and is moving toward that leadership position.
For help on how you can step up to executive leadership in your work and capabilities contact Joel.
Talkback: What have you done to insure your work is aligned with the priorities of your boss or CEO?
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“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”
~ Henry David Thoreau ~
Client Kevin Asks: I am so stuck in a rut with my present job—it feels like walking through quicksand. I know what the next step is, the promotion to the job I want but I’m so busy doing what the current job demands that I have no time to even plan a strategy for moving ahead. How can I get out of this swamp?
Coach Joel Answers: Unfortunately, many companies easily overlook the people who labor in silence, who do what it takes to get the job done, but never manage to get ahead. If you really want your paycheck and your job title to match your capabilities and the amount of work you do, you need to focus on creating visibility—and you need to be happy while you’re doing it. Appearances count for a lot, and you need to love the job you have while planning your next move. Here are three important steps you can take right now.
- Love the one you’re with
- Divide and conquer
- Create a new model
1. Love the one you’re with. I see you stressing out a lot because you don’t have the band-width or energy to do everything that’s on your plate right now. Before you can move ahead, you need to enjoy being where you are. Start having fun at it. A few things you can start doing today:
- Ask for positive feedback. Don’t wait for your annual review. Look at your current projects and ask your team members or your boss for some positive input. Focus only on what’s going well.
- Start the day on a high note. When you look at your current projects or to-do list, pick the most enjoyable item and start there. It will change the tone of your whole day by creating energy and enthusiasm.
- List your accomplishments. Once a week, write down everything you’ve accomplished—from small things to big projects. You’ll be amazed at what you’re getting done.
2. Divide and conquer. Even though you’re doing a great job now, what got you here won’t get you there. First, lay out all your current projects and responsibilities. Ask yourself what HAS to get done to continue your success at a base line level so you don’t create any red flags. You might have 1/3 that has to get done, 1/3 that relates to the job you want to have (visible stuff) and the other 1/3 is the stuff you might be able to get rid of, or put less time on. This will create more time and energy for new activities. Here’s the key to making delegation work: keep your name on key projects so you are getting some of the credit while not actually doing the work.
3. Create a new model. You need to show continuously visible productivity, or put plainly, work on the things that everyone sees. Make sure you understand your boss’s priorities and make them your priorities. Volunteer for high profile projects or new company initiatives. Speak up in meetings. Be enthusiastic and make sure everyone knows you’re happy to be part of the team. Call attention to your successes while sharing plenty of credit with those around you.
Keep your eye on the prize. You already know what your next career move looks like. Keep focusing on that. Ask yourself each day, “What did I do today that fits my new model? How did I move closer to my next dream job? Before long, you’ll be exactly where you want and deserve to be.
If you’re struggling to break out of the pack and move to the next level, contact Joel today for more strategies you can use to move to the next level.
Talkback: Are you stuck in a rut? Do you have some success strategies that have helped you break free? Share your experience here.
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