The most important factor for advancement and how to get it- why building your visibility is so critical
There are critical factors for success and critical factors for progression. Do you know the one difference? Visibility. Our visibility is the most important factor for advancement and it is made up of a subtle cocktail of your abilities (technical and leadership) and being rated (and liked) by senior influential people. And you can and should influence that, authentically and with integrity.
We spend so much time working on our company’s strategies. I see the best strategic minds at work for their company and when I ask ‘and what about your own strategy? For your own career?’ I often get, ‘well I don’t really have time for that and it feels a bit tacky and manipulative and shouldn’t our work speak for itself?’ Yes. And no. It depends what you are working on. And you need to be working on your visibility if you are interested in promotion. So how do we do that without looking self-serving and self-promoting?
Let’s talk about Reputation
You build and protect your reputation every day. You keep your promises, you over deliver, you operate with integrity, you work really hard and you don’t let people down. You are working on being the best leader you can be and staying on top of your game. Right? Of course you are. It’s just that it is not enough to be building a great reputation if no-one knows about it. Your reputation is what you do, and how you do it. The next step is who sees that.
Our reputation is everything, it is what people are saying about us. You don’t own your reputation, others do. Your reputation is built by how it is you make people feel and what people remember about you.
People’s experience of you is your reputational capital and you should guard it like a she-wolf. The reality is your reputation will get you to the next place before you do, so that means being intentional with it.
Start by answering these questions?
- What are you known for now?
- What do people say about you?
- What do you want to be known for?
- Is there a gap?
- What do you need to do about that?
- If you had a personal brand, what it would be?
The four things that build our visibility
Once we know what we stand for it is then time to be strategic about letting others know about it. So how is visibility achieved?
- Sponsors and Mentors
- Strategic high visibility projects
- How you impact at meetings
- Your Network
What does research tell us is the challenge for women with these critical visibility raising strategies?
- Unconscious bias data indicate a real ‘double bind’ tension between the expectations of our gender roles and executive roles – if you don’t advocate for yourself you stay under the radar, if you do you can be seen as self-serving
- That women’s mentors tend to have less organisational clout, and female executives tend to be over-mentored and under-sponsored
- Research also shows networking can be more difficult for women because; likes attract, women tend to have different life and work spheres and those two things can breed a distaste for networking as it is seen as ‘using people’
Considering some of those challenges let’s look at those four strategies for building visibility for women leaders.
Sponsors and Mentors
Since the ‘80’s academic studies have demonstrated the benefits of mentoring. Those who have mentors earn more and get promoted more readily. Yet research some ten years ago began to indicate that as mentoring is a statistically significant predictor of promotion for men it was less so for women and in digging into this there were some interesting differences. Men’s mentors tended to be more senior and male, and women often approached their mentoring relationships more for development than sponsorship. And that is what they got. So, it is important to understand the difference between sponsorship and mentoring so you can approach this relationship with clarity.
- Can be role models
- Can be at any level in the organisation
- Give advice and feedback
- Tend to focus on personal & professional development
- Are senior managers with influence
- Give you exposure to others who may help your career
- Make sure you are considered for opportunities and assignments
- Fight to get you promoted
Ensure you are entering and managing these relationships understanding what you and they are bringing to the relationship.
Strategic high visibility projects
Be strategic about what you volunteer for. Ensure it is a project that has strategic value and senior influencers value it and will be interested in its’ outcome. Just working harder at the day job and getting 5% better at your technical skills might not be where you need to be spending your energy. Think about a project you would like to lead on or get involved in. And how do you get them? Your sponsors advocate for you, they can guide you about the projects that will play to your strengths, stretch you AND get visibility to the right people.
How you impact at meetings
Every meeting is a platform for your leadership to be demonstrated. Again, you need to be intentional about this if you want to make the impact you need to. It is not about being a loud mouth or simply filling up the airwaves. Nor is it about saying nothing unless you think you have something to contribute in your sphere of knowledge. Prepare for meetings where you will have influencers present. Make a strategic contribution, ask a question that takes the conversation up a thousand feet. Just as you should dress for the job you want you need to contribute to meetings for the job you want.
Yes, I am sorry but networking is critical. It is important that your sphere of influence includes your networks. Don’t avoid it, for networking tips see my blog ‘Networking- why you should do it and how to get good at it’.