How to propel your career by increasing your visibility (don't rely on your boss)
VISIBILITY? NOT FOR ME...
Some people are natural networkers and self-promoters. Most of us are not but have the capacity to cultivate the skills and use them for a good purpose (e.g. developing a career that makes a contribution).
As the labour market moves away from linear careers to portfolios, it’s important to maintain that entrepreneurial mindset and see yourself as a highly valuable company of one in your organisation or wider economy, and look for ways to create partnership.
But if you’re like me, you’ll have to work on changing your approach.
One of the biggest identity changes in my career as a doctor was to go from someone who could perform clinical procedures to someone who could lead a team of junior doctors.
Similarly going from someone who could do clever epidemiological analyses to someone who could articulate practical policy recommendations that improve population health required personal growth.
These transformations of identity or self-image were gut wrenching at times e.g. doing big presentations or responding to questions in meetings or for ministerial work, even when I wasn’t sure what the hell I was doing (technically known in public health as “winging it”).
The possibility of coming across as a fool or incompetent is painful and nerve racking...
However, we all tend to know more than we think but don’t give ourselves permission to chance an intelligent answer or articulate and put forward a point for debate. We prefer to be absolutely sure – which isn’t real life (nor the realm of health policy, politics or even career success).
WHY GO THROUGH THE PAIN OF MAKING YOURSELF MORE VISIBLE?
Many doctors or health professionals I’ve worked with as colleagues or a coach feel a call to make a difference. Although individual patient care provides great satisfaction, your knowledge and understanding begins to deepen and you start to see how systems and policies could be improved.
Eventually, it becomes painfully frustrating to see patients bounced around the system and know that their illness and quality of life is linked to wider social and political factors – an imperative which drives us to want to become advocates for patients and work in applied research, policy or politics including through NGOs and management consulting.
Indeed, you may have a brilliant idea or vision for how things could be improved!
But if you don’t make it known (and make it known widely), the chances are it will recoil and wither into the recesses of your mind.
No visibility = your vision is just a dream. You and your vision are hidden from the world.
Don’t let your music die with you.
REFRAMING THE MEANING OF VISIBILITY TO MAKE IT LESS GUT WRENCHING
One way to look at increasing your visibility is to say that you need to find and communicate with people who share your vision and are waiting for the opportunity to work with you!
Another way is to realise that there is a bigger plan in life and you need to do your bit, including overcoming your inertia, fears and resistance related to visibility, for the bigger plan to unfold.
Yes, there are socio-cultural reasons for women and kind souls’ reticence to speak up about themselves, often stemming from a deeply ingrained sense that it is inappropriate to blow one’s own trumpet.
Research shows that men do not seem to share that reluctance and one study showed that they are more likely to get paid for “potential”— while women tend to be paid for “performance.” Eek.
Reframing that sense of self-centred boldness in a more positive light, Dale S Wright, author of Buddhism and the Cultivation of Character, argues that the more good people step up and do more good things on a wider scale, the more likely the world is to become a better place.
So if your work and successes are elevated, recognised, rewarded and you are in the process as well, it’s no bad thing!
Of course, you must believe that what you are doing is valuable. If you don’t believe it, ask yourself: why not? Is it a lack of confidence and self-esteem or are you in the wrong job? These questions need to be explored if you feel really stuck.
STRATEGY: DON’T RELY ON YOUR BOSS AND GET CLEAR
A classic piece of career advice is to get your boss to do the visibility work for you. Of course, this is helpful but also dangerous as a sole or even primary strategy.
Lucky for you if you have a boss who does your PR (I had a fantastic female boss who pushed me outside my comfort zone and put me in front of key connections) but that’s not their job and it’s unfair to expect them to do this.
Get clear on the fact that it’s your job to share the wealth of information, knowledge and talent that you have and get a visibility strategy in place.
Note that alongside visibility, strategy is another area where women and kind-hearted souls may struggle because you tend to take on the role of helper who keeps things going at your own expense, sacrificing your own longer term vision and strategy.
A pitfall is to think that this behaviour will be rewarded. I’m sure you’ll agree that if one’s vision is to be a Good Samaritan one is best off working for the Samaritans! (bad joke, I know).
Otherwise, start seeing yourself as a leader and putting your visibility strategy in place.
You are the number one vehicle and platform for the ideas that you have.
NUTS AND BOLTS OF YOUR VISIBILITY STRATEGY
Clear purpose and communication…
1) Have a clear idea of the basics of your role, or rather, the role that you want – this is VERY important. You need a sentence that says:
Who you work with
What problems and frustrations you solve for them
What dreams and aspirations you make possible
How that makes the wider world a better place (i.e. how does this advance your organisation, field or industry) and therefore how you enable others to create a legacy
EXPONENTIAL RESULTS IF: you solve a problem that no one has identified, solved or wants to solve – this instantly gives you a niche!
2) Based on the above, list whom you need to be in contact with:Who needs what you do?
Who can help you improve what you do?
Who can help you make it visible?
Keep in touch with this group of people or initiate contact. Be of service to them and share your your progress/achievements every now and again. It’s probably something you do anyway, but doing it intentionally and beyond your comfort zone will make a difference.
Use the magic number i.e. the Dunbar number after Robin Dunbar, an Oxford University professor who estimated that humans could only maintain 150 stable and meaningful relationships at any one time. That’s still a large number for most of us who probably maintain less than 20, if not a handful of, meaningful relationships.
3) Other basic strategies that are lower in time and energy investment but may have much lower impact are below. Strengthen your relationship with your boss who can use their boss capital to promote you and/or find a mentor
Ask to be assigned to projects that will increase your visibility (high profile projects or multi-organisational ones) that extend your opportunities to meet new people
Speak up in meetings
Volunteer to represent your team and/or organise corporate activities
Participate in learning opportunities and external meetings that expand your network
Demonstrate your expertise wherever you can
Remember that the magnitude of change and impact your actions will have will be related to the amount of effort and risk you will take…
IS INCREASING YOUR VISIBILITY EASY?
Of course not. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.
Visibility comes under the category of “high risk - high reward” activities for most of us who tend to prefer staying under the radar.
It may be scary but you don’t have to do it alone. Get support where you can.
If you’re a woman you are in a double bind: if you’re assertive and focused on your mission you can be labelled as aggressive; if you’re good on soft skills, collaborative and accommodating you might be cast as not ambitious enough…
However, this is where as a woman (or a man sensitive to these issues), you can make a huge difference in finding your own, unique way through this conundrum and forge a new path that inspires others.
Find your own way to blend the best of the old system (focus, efficiency, competition) and of the new (creativity, intuition, collaboration).
Whatever you do, don’t wait for bosses to do your PR, take your vision for your career forward by making your work more visible this year.
Until next time,
If you're ready to take the great leap in your life and career, join Wise Wednesdays! Any questions? Email me on email@example.com