Tall Poppies


I had a session last week with a client that raised something interesting that I know a lot of women struggle with.

This woman is enormously capable at her job and her team appreciates her as an authentic, fair-minded leader who "gets shit done". She is respected by her stakeholders - their harsh treatment of her at times is actually recognition they are just a little bit scared of how capable she is. The outcome she wanted from the session was to get clarity on her next role and how to prepare for it - define the role, the type of organisation and what she needs to get there. She determined that she wants to be a department head in a strategic role. In our discussions, she related that she finds it difficult to be recognised for the great work she does, relying only on her boss to share the good news of what she and her team have done. For her and her team, there is only one route to 'glory' and recognition within the organisation. When I pressed her about this, she said that she hated self-promotion - the tone she used was clear. She did not care to be seen as arrogant; a 'peacock' making much of her achievements, preferring instead to let her great work speak for itself.

Noble, but naive. Promotions come to those 60% as a result of exposure, 30% as a result of image and a disturbing 10% as a result of the work you do, according to Harvey Coleman in his book, Empowering Yourself: The Organisational Game Revealed. Competition is hot, not just in getting a job, but in staying in one, and getting the next one. By not giving thought to getting her name out there, my client does herself a disservice. There may be cultural influences at play as well - it is recognised that the British and many of the Commonwealth countries can down-play achievement. In New Zealand and Australia, we even have a name for this - Tall Poppy Syndrome; where the tall poppy that grows above the rest is chopped down to size by its peers.

When did visibility become so negatively nuanced as self-promotion? Unfortunately, it is not enough to do fantastic work if you want a promotion. There are a lot of people doing fantastic work, and sadly, a lot who are not, but if they have their visibility game on better than you, then who is going to get that position before you? Visibility does not have to be all about self-promotion of one's achievements; it is about building relationships of trust and raising your profile. There are a number of things you can do to increase your visibility in an authentic way without being the arrogant peacock with little substance to support it.

Get Visible

  • Find a sponsor: A sponsor is someone influential in the company who respects you and your work, believes in you and will be prepared to put your name forward for opportunities, speak about you, raise your profile in the organisation. They may or may not be a mentor, but mutual trust and respect is imperative.

  • Find a mentor: Apart from the personal and career development you can gain from a mentor, they are another set of eyes on your performance who can share that with others, and keep their ear to the ground for opportunities;

  • Network: I have yet to meet someone who enjoys networking; but try thinking of it this way - it is about building relationships with people, connecting with them on a personal level that may also mutually benefit you by advancing your careers. Single-mindedly going at it heartlessly to add as many names to your list of connections, focusing only what you can get out of that person will never be enjoyable.

  • Dress for success: Women have a challenge in the workplace - how to be feminine but corporate, how to stand out but not flashy or brassy, how to convey you are an individualist and think differently without being considered high risk. There is a lot to write and be said about this, and I will do so in later posts, but dress like you mean it - like you are serious about your role. Whether we like it or not, we are all judged on how we look - it takes 11 seconds to make an impression on someone. Make it a good one.
  • Volunteer: Get yourself involved in initiatives within and without the workplace, whether it is internal employee resource groups, social club, or externally, industry groups, and charities. The more people you engage with the better.
  • Ask someone to introduce you: Don't be afraid to ask a connection or colleague to introduce you to someone of influence. The worst that can happen is they'll say no; and if you're worried about whether your connection or colleague will judge you...well, they're judging you already, so leap in!
  • Engage with Senior Management: Don't wait for your manager to make the connection for you. Find an opportunity to engage with senior management, even if it is a short lift conversation. It doesn't even have to be an 'Elevator Pitch' - remember, it is about building relationships first. Ask a question at the next Town Hall. Agree to present to the C-suite. Chat with the COO about something other than work at Friday drinks.
  • Accept invitations: Whether it is social or at work, the magic of this world is that you never know who you're going to meet. Imagine being invited to dinner by an acquaintance only to find the CEO has popped around too! These informal social occasions are priceless.
  • Be active on LinkedIn: Like, comment, post, update your status, change your profile pic often. Whatever you think of it, LinkedIn is used by headhunters, recruiters, employers and colleagues to understand who you are, what you've done and what you're doing. By being active on LinkedIn, you appear in your connections' feeds, automatically raising your profile to potentially millions; and of course, hand in hand with being active...
  • Update your profile: These days, it is just lame to have an outdated profile or no photo. It means you are not serious about your career or advancement. Even if you are not a heavy or frequent user of technology, when it comes to your career, a well-written and presented profile is essential.

So get out there - embrace visibility! It doesn't need to be a negative experience.

Would love to hear other visibility tips if you have them. Comment below.