Why executive women need to create a visibility strategy

Gone are the days when you turned up to work and put in the time, and in return got

  • a pat on the back,
  • a promotion, and
  • a payrise ... then waited a while longer while you marched towards the sweet release of retirement.

It simply doesn't work that way anymore - but neither do I think we really want it to. We all love stories such as the 90+ year old nurse still working and flourishing. I used to work with a 92 yo consultant who came into the office every day and advised on policy and protocol - an area where he had considerably more experience and expertise than the rest of the team put together.

Visibiility

However with the rise of the portfolio career, and where brand development is both for companies and for people, plus an era of self promotion you need to develop a few more powerful tactics.

Visibility

Visibility is a cool tool.  Staying ahead of the visibility curve is great for both you and for your business.  And here's the kicker - even if you don't do it particularly well, it's still better than not doing it at all.

Well executed visibility - rising to the top

Averagely executed visibility - staying afloat

No visibility - sinking

Strategy

I'm taking this one step further and saying we need to be strategic about this.  It's not enough to simply spread yourself thin at networking functions and golf games any more. You need to focus on what's most effective - separate busy from strategic and focus on the areas that are going to give you the most bang for you buck and deliver on the results you need. 

And in this day and age whether you are a business owner, a professional in a firm, or maybe on a fast track to corporate C-suite ascendancy - any strategy, even the wrong strategy, is better than no strategy.

Four rules of thumb to remember:

  • Work is not school - you won't get the corner office by being good or quiet
  • No-one promotes the stressed out, worn out and flustered looking executive with their head down up the back of the office
  • Results no longer speak for themselves
  • Stop being busy, start being strategic

Visibility and Strategy Unpacked

When you cross reference busy v's strategic and low visibility v's high visibility - you begin to see the picture.

Busy & low visibility (going nowhere) - head down, tail up, doing the job because it's the right thing to do. Historically this may have worked, but not any more. You will be bypassed and overlooked despite working hard and best intentions on your part.

High visibility but busy (going crazy) - leaves you worn out, overworked and potentially resentful as you feel like you've been hung out to dry for things that weren't even in your remit. When you're worn out and overworked, you are far more likely to lean out, pick up your bat and ball and go play elsewhere. And remember how after just two years in a business women lose their ambition more than men and are more likely to lean out? I wonder if this contributes.

Low visibility but strategic (going somewhere slowly) - you're being strategic about the approaches you make, very considered and highly professional. Quite possibly you're feeling a little frustrated as you see other younger players head on past you far more easily or you're simply bypassed by those who do know how to sell themselves.  Maybe you've turned down opportunities to tackle different projects, to speak, to write whitepapers or be quoted in the press until you feel better prepared or more certain. You tell yourself that it's better to have have more substance than flash, but can't help but wondering if you are doing something wrong. Sound familiar? 

High visibility AND strategic (the sweet spot) - where visibility meets strategy and sees you leading a team, tackling big substantive work or creating enterprise/industry wide change far sooner than you might possibly imagine. You'll have fine tuned a nuanced approach to talking up the problems you solve, the difference you in particular make and the value you are adding.

What needs to be in your visibility strategy?

Here are 13 ideas to get you started. The list consists of basically anything that aligns with your goals, dreams or ambitions that is going to see you shine or draw attention to you and your contribution. For women, we walk a perilous knife edge between flying our own flag and flagrant self promotion - so keep the need for nuance in mind as you go.  Nuance, not to be confused with retiring. Nuance - subtle, effective and (in this case) really smart 'n savvy.

1. Define what you want - work out what it is you want to be when you grow up. Don't panic!  In a world where careers are morphing and changing in more cyclical and circular ways, vertical career strategy is a thing of the past, so maybe work out what's next for right now and start there.

2. Accept responsibility - let go of notions of my work should speak for itself or others should be able to see the good work I do because it simply doesn't happen any more. Stakeholders in your career success are busy themselves. As Avril Henry said at the Women World Changers event in Sydney in October -

"The only person who is as interested in your career as you - is you! So do something about it."

3. Always be linking back to the strategy - your own, or your organisation's. Anything and everything you do should connect back to a why that underpins the reason you are at work. If you don't know what the strategic objectives are for your department or your organisation, or you haven't worked them out for your own personal brand, then go do that now. Turning up to simply pass the time and get a paycheck is not for those who have leadership goals or ambitions.

4. Put your hand up before you feel ready - don't wait to be asked or until you feel prepared to do anything on this list. Ever had the experience of trying something new only for it to become your new normal? Give it a crack and you might find

5. Don't hide your light under a bushel - let go of shy and demure, it doesn't serve anyone. If Susan Cain's Quiet taught us anything it was that introverts can indeed lead - and indeed, lead better than many in times of trouble such as the GFC.  So stand up straight, walk with purpose and confidence, develop a voice that can be heard in meetings, dress in colours that draw attention (well ...... maybe not purple but who am I to judge!), stop apologising and own your own stuff.

6. Develop your leadership personal brand on social media - once again help people to help you - if people can work out who you are and what you stand for by what you like, share, comment or write about on social it makes it far easier to help you.

7. Regularly report on what you do - make sure that you get a regular spot in your department/division meeting to report on the progress of the project or BHAG. Don't hide it. Don't wait to be asked. Volunteer.

8. Write up a case study - the beauty of volunteering for special projects is that it gives you material to reflect on and possibly teach others. Write up a case study and share in your team meeting, AND with your manager, AND on the intranet, AND on LinkedIn (with your disclaimer about views expressed etc), AND on Twitter, PLUS with other departments who are keen to motivate younger team members or who might be tackling the same issue themselves - or share even with your peak body. Find ways to spread the word.

9. Be proactive with your peak body or professional association. Again - don't wait to be asked. Volunteer to help. Many associations run on the smell of an oily rag and are keen to have proactive contributors or volunteers on special projects to help them maintain their momentum. In my time as CEO of SOCAP our volunteer committees rewrote the industry Standard for Australia and New Zealand and created an industry wide Core Competency Framework that became the go to reference point for anyone in industry. Several of the committee members then went onto consult on the International Standard. Make sure you get credited for the work in some way whether that's a listing on the website, in the magazine, the report, or even a more active role at the industry conference. And then share the results of your work back into your business.

10. Learn to pitch or speak in public - yes I know that most people that many people rate public speaking as their #1 fear (above dying in fact). But as part of a modern and successful career you need to learn to speak and also pitch ideas well. The flip side of leadership is followership - and if you can pitch or speak, creating a followership is far easier.  If you can't speak already, then sign up for public speaking training or send yourself to Toastmasters, but do get started. Make it a priority.

11. Be seen with the movers and shakers - make time to mix, mingle and network with senior level decision makers inside and outside of your business. You need to go to where they are if they don't normally come to you. Find ways to make sure you are included in discussions both formal and informal that happen about the future of industry or your business. Don't be shy. Volunteer an opinion whether you think you know the right answer or not. You need to be heard in addition to being visible.

12. Consistency trumps frequency - Establish a maintenance schedule for your leadership personal brand - it's not enough to speak on a panel once and then tick it off your list as having been there done that. It's not enough to write an article once and think that one article will do the job. You need to be flying your own flag over and over again. Repeatedly. It takes time. Your visibility strategy needs to be ritualised and feature as a regular appointment in your calendar. But beware, you don't want to become the the squeaky wheel whereby you saturate the airwaves with brand you. Once again, be strategic. Find the Goldilocks sweet spot - that balance between too little and too much - and stick with it until you get a chance to reassess.

13. Reassess every 6 months - start at the top and work your way down to make sure that your plan doesn't need tweaking and refining.

So there you have it. 13 tactics to try to help you build a Visibility Strategy. If this looks like too much simply start at the beginning and work your way through over the period of a year.  Or you could sign up for Executive Coaching where brand you is dealt with front and centre. 

Vive la révolution! #ambitionrevolution #feminineambition #LookOutCSuiteHereSheComes

Comments? I'm sure there are other things that you might be doing that may help others, so email me (or comment below) and let me know your thoughts.

 

 

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  • I am the creator of The Ambition Revolution – the science and art of amping smart and savvy
  • I mentor busy professional women to ensure they remain smart, strategic and focused on the bigger game.
  • I also work with organisations who are trying to increase the profile of women in leadership, but are struggling to do so.
Feel like your leadership journey has stalled? Email ablesing@amandablesing.com to set up a 30 min one on one to learn more. Helping clients shift from feeling invisible to becoming invincible in just 12 months