What you don’t know, may hurt you

Posted December 22, 2008 in Latest News & Insights

Last week, I was talking to a colleague about a mutual acquaintaince of ours… we’ll call her Jill. Jill is exceptionally smart, incredibly productive and overall one of those dream employees because she always gets the job done.

Jill has also always been “stuck in the middle”… never getting beyond a senior Director level in her organization. And, in my personal opinion, it’s because no one has ever given her the straight talk on her management style.

You see, Jill is an over the top, in your face, uber-positive sort of person.  There’s nothing really wrong with it, it’s just that she’s dialled up the enthusiasm to 11… all the time.  She’s almost a characature of a motivational speaker (not like Chris Farley on SNL, more like Oprah when she’s geared up to give away 500 cars).  After you meet her, you walk away wondering if it’s all real.  How can anyone be that positive ALL the time?  Even if it’s authentic, her behaviour is so amplified, it doesn’t come across as genuine.

And, the problem is… nobody has told her that these behaviours are potentially limiting her ability to move forward in the organization.  My guess is that people just don’t see her as “executive” material.

I’ve sat in executive meetings where we’ve discussed the fate of various “next in line” leaders, and I can say – even in the most open-minded organizations – the discussion of people’s personal style often comes into the discussion.  It’s sad, but people form decisions on your ability to join the C-suite not just on your track record and the results you’ve delivered, but on HOW you did it…and how you LOOK/ACT doing it.  And, if you’re a little “quirky” or a little “left or right of center”, then be aware that this fact alone might limit your opportunities to advance.

So, how can you protect yourself?  Ask for an HONEST assessment from people who know you well.  Ask them three simple things:

1) What do I do really well as a leader?

2) What do you think I could improve? (or what don’t I do so well)?

3) What specific ideas do you have for me that would close the gaps?

Ask for it, listen to it and use it.  I’m not suggesting you change who you are, but if you want to get your deserved seat at the big table… then at least know what the rules of the game are in your organization and how you can position yourself to best compete.  Afterall, career advancement is part skill and part strategy.  Once you’re in the C-suite, you’ll be able to dial it back up to 11 and be known as the “maverick” exec.  Afterall, you’ve earned the right to colour outside the corporate lines.

Happy leading!

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