How to Get Noticed by Senior Leaders
There comes a point in your career when it seems like you’ll never get out of that obsequious layer of the company that is neither too junior for people to notice and not too senior to be taken seriously. And far too many people remain there, sometimes their entire career, because they don’t know how to get out.
That was me back in my early thirties. I had just started a wonderful new job at a much larger organization than I was used to. By then I had 5 years experience in HR and another 8 years as an Executive Assistant. The first few months were overwhelming to some extent. I had previous industry experience, so there was a very little learning curve. But my boss had a very different management style than I was used to.
So, in order not to upset her and subsequently get fired from this dream job, coupled with a sense of insecurity and lack of confidence in my aptitude, I kept my head down a job and did the best I could. I was diligent, detail oriented, organized and slowly but surely my new boss took a liking to me.
However, what I hadn’t anticipated was that this boss had insecurities of her own and rarely gave me the opportunity to get in front of people outside our immediate department. So much that her boss didn’t even know me, and we were a department of 13!
Despite my confidence issues at this job, I was ambitious. Always had been. I never thought that I could ever take matters into my own hands. Didn’t think I could stop relying on her to shine the spotlight on me.
It was inevitably something I read (something I can’t remember right now) that finally jolted me out of inertia. The article said that people wait far too long in their lives for the universe to align so they can make their move. In truth, getting to the destination is a series of small steps, not a giant leap.
So, here are the little things you can do to get noticed by senior leaders, or anyone else for that matter.
Know what you believe in
The first step is to figure out is what you stand for. People who agree with the majority rarely get noticed. Now, I’m not saying you need to be contrary for the sake of it, but if you genuinely don’t agree with a point of view held by most, then acknowledge that. At this stage, you’re not even going to voice it to others. You’re simply going to say to yourself “I disagree”. That’s it. The first step is done.
Now keep that with you and start building on it. What other things don’t you agree with? What other things do you think could be done differently and why? Put words to your feelings. Articulate them in your head. Have that argument with yourself. Writing works for me, so I put things on paper. It could be voice recordings for you.
Make the first move
With sufficient knowledge of what you stand for when you have an opportunity to say something, say it. Do not wait for someone to call on you. This takes an inordinate amount of courage. I know because the first time I spoke up at a large meeting, my heart was ready to explode, my voice kept catching in my throat, and my face was beet red. That particular meeting was with the Chief HR Officer (CHRO) from the parent company and a room full of HR Business Partners. And I was contradicting him. It was the scariest moment of my life.
But that comment was the catalyst for me. At that meeting, the CHRO didn’t even know my name. Within a year, he had become my biggest sponsor. That comment started my change process from hardworking wallflower to respected, sought-out professional (at least in that company).
The best part was that after realizing that I wasn’t going to get fired for saying what I did, I started to make more “first moves”, culminating in my final meeting at that company – debating with a room full of lawyers and winning.
Know that you can’t please everyone
Since starting my own company, I’ve learned a thing or two about marketing. There are lots of marketing tenets, but one universal truth about marketing is “When you try to please everyone, you please no one”. And by pleasing someone one, you’ll inevitably turn off someone else. The idea is to please someone fully and unequivocally. This applies perfectly to our professional lives too.
The purpose of this blog post is to teach you to get noticed by senior leaders. I can say this without a doubt – when senior leaders start noticing you, there will be others who will be jealous and upset by the attention you’re getting. Or there will be others who will wonder what you’re up to or where you came from. Know this and be prepared to experience this.
When I encountered my first condescending comment from a senior leader’s then-favorite, I was so taken aback and hurt by the comment. It set me back because I was not prepared for it. The next time it happened, I simply smiled. Above all, avoid the urge to be bitchy back unless you have something humorous to say. I’m decidedly bad at witty comebacks so I resort to smiling or ignoring. If you have an example of when you dealt with a snarky remark, I’d love to hear it – go ahead and comment!
The plus side is that there will also be plenty of others who will be pleased to see you elevate. Keep those people close to you.
Once you start getting noticed, people will ask your opinion on things. I cannot tell you how many people give up this golden opportunity to speak the truth because they’re afraid. Afraid to look unpolitical, to look like they’re complaining, to throw someone under the bus, to look helpless, that people won’t want to hear about their problems.
Now I’ll be the first to say that there is a fine line between being honest with no filter (like children are) and being honest when someone asks your opinion on matters. I’ve worked with so many people who complain about their circumstances, their boss, the workload, the little insanities at companies. But when they get the opportunity to voice these concerns to the senior executive of their group whether that’s in a town hall or a one-on-one meeting, they clam up.
If there is one thing you take away from this blog post, take this one away.
If you don’t voice your thoughts on how to make your company a better place, you are doing yourself and your colleagues a disservice.
I remember at one point, the same CHRO was trying to learn about the subsidiaries of the company. He invited a small group of people to talk to him about HR processes, practices, and other such matters. He selected me along with a senior manager on my team as well as a few others from the other companies. I was excited because there was a LOT wrong with our department and the way we did things and I was happy that someone was finally asking the right questions.
As we were walking over to the meeting, my colleague said that we should not be fully honest about what as happening at our subsidiary. I was surprised because this person was, I thought, a fearless leader. She said it was because no one else was going to be honest and we would make our company look bad in front of the other subsidiary HR people.
Now, think of this from my point of view. This senior manager was 10 years my senior. I was only an Advisor. I stumbled and second guessed myself. Maybe she was right. And if she was, was I ok with bringing my department down? If I spoke up, the team would hate me.
It was the first time I’d heard the “we shouldn’t say bad things about our team because it makes us look bad”. But it certainly wasn’t the last time.
In the end, I followed my instincts and spoke my truth. And because I did, others in the room followed suit. It was an incredibly freeing feeling. Even if nothing changed, at least I’d given voice to what could be instead of suffering silently.
By the way, lots changed after that, not just in our group but across the HR department, because so many of us spoke up that day.
Do the right thing for your career
Today, I get paid to be honest. As an independent consultant, I can be that voice for people within organizations when they’re afraid to speak up. I use my voice to the fullest extent possible. And the more honest I am, the more senior leaders want to work with me. It has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
So, for all the aspiring consultants out there (and I know there are many of you), practice this skill and it will serve you well when you make the leap into consulting.
Today’s post is about how to get noticed by senior leaders to elevate your career. However, getting noticed and elevating your career will produce the inevitable side effect of being in a position to change things. It will start with your small world – your work, then your team, then your department, then your division, your company, the industry, your country, and the world. Change happens when you’re ok with the negative, jealous people and comments because you have your eyes on something bigger than them, bigger than even you.
Next week, I’m going to talk about leading without authority and how you can influence things even if you don’t have a title. Stay tuned!
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