In the early stage of my career, I was appointed as a head of department and had a colleague who was on the same grade reporting into me. Whilst I was busy trying to prove myself and ensuring the department delivered according to set goals, my colleague was busy building relationships with senior management and claiming credit for the job that was done by the department. Sounds familiar? That was my first experience and exposure to office politics, and visibility to senior leadership as an essential part of career success and growth. Some of us wonder why we do not get that recognition and growth that we deserve in the corporate environment. One of the answers could be lack of executive presence and senior leadership visibility.
Some of my coaching clients have identified executive presence as area of their development and when I hold the space for them, I share my experience in the corporate world with their permission. The challenge for the coach is not to be drawn into the coaching client’s story and project oneself into them. This challenge is solved though coach supervision. Even a coach needs a coach! The coach is able to share if the client would benefit from such experience but not without the client’s permission with the caveat that each individual’s experience is different and what works for the coach might not work in their situation.
Not addressing the issue of visibility could cost you your ability to grow within the organisation. Most people struggling with visibility are naturally good, enjoy what they do and believe that their work output should be enough to ensure their career success and growth. When I coach my client in this area, the book I always recommend if they are opened to it is the book by John C. Maxell, Talent is Never Enough and most have found it helpful. As we rise in the corporate ladder, positions become limited and competition stiff. You have to stand-out to be recognised and recommended for that position.
The common response from my clients is that it could be seen as “sycophancy” to connect with senior leadership and that their work should speak for them. Another said it could be seen as “beating my own drum”. If you don’t beat your own drum and you expect some else to beat it for you, it is important they know you. No one beats drums for strangers. The fact is that there are also other people who are equally good and aspiring to be in the same position. The question you should ask yourself is what value are you bringing to the table and why should you be considered for the job?
The analogy I gave to one of my clients is that if you identified a particular product you like and would want to buy it, wherever you look, you keep seeing the same product. From a psychological perspective and neuroscience, the brain is quick to store what we want in the unconscious mind which in turn drives what we see. When you are visible to senior leadership and decision makers, when it comes to promotions and appointments, they will remember you.
As an introvert, I am not the type that connects easily with people. It is energy sapping for me. Understanding the benefits of connecting with senior leadership was the motivation for me to do so when it was necessary which was outside of my comfort zone. As the saying goes “there is no growth in the comfort zone.” The steps individuals take to address this challenge should depend on their circumstances. The following steps could help in developing and implementing an executive presence and visibility:
First define what visibility means to you and why you want to be visible. If you are an entertainer and influencer on social media, the goal is to be well known and famous which requires followers and likes. For them, that is visibility. In the office space, it is showcasing your abilities with modesty and tact for recognition, promotion and appointments to your aspiring position. You must decide which of these goals you want to achieve.
Definition of success
It is important to define what success will look like after you have defined your goals. How do you know you have succeeded in achieving visibility? This is the compass with which to continue to review your progress. This can change over time. Visibility success to a middle manager will be different to that of a manager, senior manager, executive and chief executive officer. Don’t be surprised I included the chief executive officer. Visibility of chief executive officer is to stakeholders such as shareholders, board of directors, employees, regulators, government and the public.
Design a strategy
It is important to have a strategy in place to reach your identified stakeholders depending on your preference and that of your target stakeholders. I am not a “coffee” person, but learned to meet my stakeholders for coffee when I changed roles and that was my stakeholders’ preference for socialising. Suffice to say that I don’t drink coffee. Strategies to consider include:
You should decide how you would like to make the initial connection. One of my clients decided he will do email introduction. It could also be to arrive early for a committee meeting where the stakeholders will be present to introduce yourself. Others prefer working to the target stakeholders in the corridor and introducing themselves. Use the approach that you are comfortable with.
Find out the interests of your target stakeholders that resonate with you. Do you both play golf? Are both of you sport fans? Do you hang-out in the same place? You have to find that common interest that will bring you together.
You can arrange a coffee introduction. Request to meet for a cup of coffee or tea and offer to pay.
Committee meeting opportunities
Committee meetings are a good place to make impressions especially if you are one of the presenters. Prepare a good presentation and practice before the meeting. If possible, present to an independent person and ask for feedback.
You could request a catch-up meeting and put time on the calendar of the stakeholder. How you show-up and what you say in that meeting are important. Find out the dress style of the stakeholder and match it. You should not under-dress or over-dress. The discussion should focus on understanding the role of your stakeholders, what keeps them awake and how you can assist and add value to their business. You could also use it as an informal feedback opportunity on your performance.
Some organisations organise happy hours. Identify your target stakeholder before the time and connect with them during happy hours.
Identification of the relevant stakeholders
You do not want to be everything to everyone which is why it is important that you narrow down list of stakeholders, the criteria being those who have the ability to determine your career path and growth. In the case of the chief executive officer, the board of directors and employees. It doesn’t mean that the regulators, government and public are not important. What it means is that once you are able to get employees and the board of directors on your side, it becomes easy to deal with the other stakeholders.
Build your network
Your stakeholders become your network which you will have to maintain on an on-going basis. Visibility is not a one-off event. It has to be maintain and sustained on an on-gong basis. You should also review this network and stakeholders as your situation and circumstances change.
To succeed, you have to follow through your on your strategy. Most strategies fail because of lack of or poor implementation. You should put a measure in place to ensure implementation and hold yourself accountable. Sustain the strategy that works for you and adjust the ones that are not working as intended. No strategy is cast in stone!
Coaching and mentorship
Identify a mentor within the organisation who has worked the path similar to yours. Your mentor will advise, share experience and hold you accountable. A coach will partner with you to put your thoughts together and challenge you to ensure you make success of your visibility.