As a mid-level leader, you may only have few opportunities to meet and impress senior management in any given year. To become more visible to them, you must be able to recognize and activate the right mindset for the following three philosophies. Using these three philosophies will allow you to be more visible in their eyes.
The 95/5 Rule
First, you need to understand the difference between these two numbers, 95 and five. Ninety-five percent of the time you can be who you are, but 5 percent of the time (defined as the times you’re interacting with individuals at least two levels or higher than yourself) you have to step into your 5 percent zone. You must be able to change how you communicate and come across to senior management.
Senior management expects you to articulate your points of view clearly, get to the point without wasting their time, and be confident enough to stand your ground when challenged. Whether you think they are or not, they’re constantly assessing whether you’re ready for the next level within the organization.
So, how do you act in those 5 percent occasions so that you stand out?
Some people will say to me, “Stephen, that’s not being authentic.” My response is, “Yes, you’re being authentic within the role they’re expecting of you.”
You already know how to do this:
- When you’re in the office, you behave one way. Do you act the same way when you’re out with your long-lost college friends?
- When you’re at your mother-in-law’s house, do you act the same as you do when you’re with those friends?
- When you support your favorite team sport, do you act the same way when they score as you do in, say, a place of worship?
You see, you change how you behave all the time. So, what makes you think you don’t have to freshen up your communication style and your presence when you deal with senior management?
Do You Want to Be Good or Great?
Secondly, you need to distinguish between GOOD vs. GREAT. I’ve seen many people in organizations stop short because they thought they were already GOOD at what they did. However, my question is, are you GREAT at what you do? More importantly, does senior management think you’re great or just good like everyone else?
The difference between good and great is making that decision to be great. Why? Because if you’re simply happy with being good, then you won’t learn or try new techniques or perfect your skills on how you come across because “it takes too much time or it’s too much work.” Some people ask me, “Do I have to do this? I’ve been getting along just fine so far.”
I can tell you that most senior management do more than the necessary preparation, and they just don’t tell you. The best athletes in the world practice, and if they’re the best, they probably practice more than their peers. So, here’s a question for you: How much time do you practice communicating confidently, connecting personally, and standing out in your organization? If you want to be visible, get noticed in your organization, and have people remember you positively, you have to first DECIDE you want to be great and do what it takes to get there.
The Rules of the Game
Lastly, in every organization, there are rules, written rules, and dozens more unwritten rules. Let me ask you, which is more important — written or unwritten rules? It’s the unwritten rules. Now here’s the question: What are the rules of the game for your boss’s boss? Why should you focus on that person? Because that is the person who will usually determine if you’re ready for the next level and signs off on your promotion. I remember once when I had just joined an organization I was bringing up the name of my staff to my supervisor for promotion, and she said, “No, I don’t think she’s ready.” I said. “No, she’s terrific. In fact, she has been my right-hand person. Everyone on the team and even our customers love her.”
“Yes, but she doesn’t add value and is always so quiet in meetings. I’m sure she does good work, but let’s consider her the next round,” she said.
“The next round? That’s not for another 12 months!”
The rule that was important to my supervisor was participation and contribution in meetings. My staff member was doing great work, and customers loved her, but she wasn’t doing herself any favors with the unwritten rule.
Do you know your organization’s rules, especially senior management’s? How do they expect you to perform in these five situations:
- one-on-one meetings;
- team meetings (small functional, town halls, or all-hands meetings);
- conferences calls;
- business presentations; and
- company socials?
These five situations are critical because when your name comes up, what senior management remembers about you comes from their interactions with you in those five situations. Were you quiet or did you talk too much (also a problem)? Were you the complainer? What will be the first memory of you to senior management if I mentioned your name?
So be ready and be prepared for your 5 percent situations. It makes all the difference!