In November 2020, I developed two webinars in a four-part series on career development for the University of Washington Professional and Continuing Education.
The first, Maximize Your Career in Your Current Organization, covers what I describe as the three pillars of career management: Managing your career trajectory; managing your manager; and managing yourself. The second webinar, titled How to Network When Your Not Networking, covers what I describe as the career lifecycle and how (and why!) networking fits into that.
I’m not about to speak extemporaneously in an 45-minute webinar in front of hundreds of people, so I wrote out, word for word, my 7,428-word script and practiced reading it from a teleprompter. Exhaustively. If you’re more of a reader than a video watcher, here’s the script:
Thank you, Piyu, for the introduction.
I am so happy to be here, and to share with you all some of the things I’ve learned in my coaching practice over the years.
So I’ll plan to pause a couple of times during this presentation to see if there are any questions. And Piyu, feel free to interrupt if there’s a flare up of a specific question or controversy I should know about!
Okay, I have about 7000 words to share with you all, so let’s get to it! I thought I might start off by telling you a little bit about myself and my coaching practice.
Prospective clients sometimes ask me how I have the credibility to coach senior executives in industries I know nothing about. Challenging question, right?
So I have a choice here: I can answer in a way that risks sounding defensive, talking about my experience and my degrees. I like to do something really unexpected instead.
I like to talk about knots.
In my family, I’m the one who knows knots.
If something needs to be tied or untangled, I’m the one in charge in the family. So we’re talking, I don’t know, kite strings, tent stakes, hammock lines, clotheslines, putting up tarps when it’s pouring and we’re camping which is super fun – I’m in charge of the tying and untying.
And that can be a useful metaphor to describe my coaching process: I have the ability to tease out the tangle that my client is dealing with.
I ask useful questions that can loosen up a situation that seems impossible. This ability is informed by my years working in corporate environments; by my years raising children while working in those corporate environments; by my education and training; and probably most profoundly, by my work as an journalist.
I am very good at listening, I’m pretty unafraid to ask difficult questions, I engender trust, and I can – when I’m lucky! – articulate the tangle that the client is describing in a simple, organized structure – much like writing a solid news article.
See how that might be useful in a coach, even if they don’t know anything about the technical aspects of your job?
Okay, enough about me! Let’s talk about your career, and thriving in your current role. Nothing I’m going to say here is rocket science, or anything you haven’t already thought of, but I’m hoping the framework and organization of content is helpful to you as you think about your career.
I coach my clients on three pillars of career management. The first is managing your trajectory: your promotions, raises, access to interesting projects, access to growth.
The second pillar is managing your manager: in other words, upwards management and making yourself visible.
The third pillar is managing yourself – your internal dialogue, your behavior, your presentation, how you spend your time — the list goes on and on, as you’ll see.
Within this broad framework, I will go very tactical. I’ll share with you clients’ stories and common mistakes and how we tackle them in my office. Well, back when I had an office.
I want to note that while I am describing real clients, I’ll talk about their industry in very general terms, I may actually change their profession, and I may change up the pronouns in order to protect my clients’ confidentiality.
Okay, let me step back. We’re talking about thriving. For the purposes of this presentation, we’re assuming you’re in a job you really enjoy; that you’re ambitious; and that you want to continue to grow in the role – and – in – your – organization, or industry, or field.
So, this first pillar is about actively managing your career trajectory: in other words, what are you working towards?
You need to keep two things in mind. The first is to actively and strategically manage your promotion cycles.
Let me tell you a client story to illustrate what I mean in a broad sense before we get into tactics.
This client works at a large tech company that you’ve heard of. She’s considered a rising star, and has been rapidly promoted to date. That said, she is facing some headwinds as a young woman in tech.
In order to make the next level, she needs to make a crystal clear business case that she is ready for promotion. We spent a lot of time on that document – it was a beautiful promo doc. It made the simple argument that she is already working at that next level, and that it was in the organization’s best interests to promote her… She got the promotion.
As you probably well know, your career is not always going to be great – you will likely run into rough patches. So let me go to the other end of the spectrum, and share a story about a client who was dreading — was in fact afraid — of her upcoming performance review. Together, we wrote a performance doc that clearly outlined the projects she’s worked on and the value she’s added over the last year.
Again, we spent a lot of time on that document. It helped remind her of her contribution and her value – things she had lost track of during a difficult year.
She went into that performance review discussion feeling confident that she had done good work, and with evidence in hand to prove it.
There’s a lot going on there from a coaching perspective in terms of confidence, self-worth, courage, apart from just writing a document. There’s also negotiating theory, which is a topic for another time – but in short, she set the anchor high, rather than letting her manager set the anchor somewhere low and, I don’t know, negative and critical.
This client ended up having a very positive conversation with her manager; and she wasn’t put on a pip, which she had been deeply afraid of. In fact, her manager expressed appreciation of her work.
Okay, let me get down in the weeds and show you how to prepare to write this business case for your promotion doc or promotion discussion.
And again, none of this is anything you don’t already know, I’m just reminding you of how important it is do these things proactively.
Okay, I’m going to share my screen because I want the structure of this content to be really clear. Hang on…
You’re going to need to keep track of three things on an ongoing basis. The first is a kudos file. — Every time someone thanks you for your work, compliments your work, recognizes your work, you drop it in your kudos file. This file can electronic, it can be a manila file folder, it can be a shoe box – whatever works for you.
You get extra credit if you organize the file by strength, or function, or project, so it’s not a big mess to sort through come review time – -.
Key quotes from that kudos file serves as your evidence of your excellent work, and reputation, and contribution. It’s your ammunition. Your management may not be fully aware of how awesome you are, particularly if you’re the kind of person who keeps your head down, does good work, and hopes to get rewarded – and just wait, we’re going to talk about that. These kudos –es prove how good you are.
The second thing you need to keep track of, are your successes and accomplishments. And again, I know this is really obvious, and your performance doc is going to be so much easier to write when you do this.
Over the course of a year, you’re going to do a lot of work, and as the months fly by, you’re going to forget about what you’ve achieved, or you’re going to minimize it because organizational priorities change over time and that great work that you did months ago no longer seems relevant.
You know this is going to happen. Aspirationally, I’d recommend jotting down the wins each week, and once a month rolling those up into a summary of the accomplishments for that month. But I also have aspirations about my taxes. Incidentally, keeping track of these successes is very helpful when it is time to update your resume.
And the third thing you need to keep track of is how you have changed your behavior as a result of negative feedback, constructive criticism, growth areas, areas of improvement – whatever your organization calls it.
As a coach, I love the negative feedback that my clients know about. It’s one of my first questions when I start working with a new client. Negative feedback is like a gift. It’s something concrete you can actually dig your teeth into and work on, rather than just guessing, or imagining, or inferring from some weird interaction.
Time for another client story, but let me switch back to speaker mode so you’re not staring at my boring powerpoint.
I’m thinking I’ll tell you about a client at another! tech company. He was director level; in his performance review one year, he got feedback that he needed to work more cross-functionally – which is very useful feedback to get.
As a result of this feedback, he made a plan to reach out to peers across the organization, he systematically scheduled meetings, lunches, coffees, drive bys. When review time came around again, he was able to list where his team had helped out on projects across the org, increased efficiencies, improved relationships, etc.
Obviously he was doing all these good things because he was great at his job, but he (and I!) kept his performance review feedback in mind. In his next review, he demonstrated that he had heard the feedback and had addressed it.
We’ll talk more about negative feedback in a bit, but do you see how helpful it would be to keep track of these three elements over time, and to be able to include them in your pitch for a promotion, or a raise or, to lead some high visibility project?
The second piece to managing your career trajectory has to do with the ongoing discussions you have with your manager, maybe skip, and any mentors you may have about your career goals. You have to ask for what you want.
That’s so important, let me say it again: You have to ask for what you want.
If I had to choose the number one mistake I think people make with their careers, it would have to be around this issue. I have literally started screaming in agony when clients say: “I’ve always thought if I kept my head down and did good work, I’d be noticed and rewarded.” Look around: we know it doesn’t work that way.
Okay, let me tell you a personal story as a metaphor to illustrate this. Back in the day, I used to have two huge Bernese Mountain Dogs named Hector Protector and Ferdinand. When they sensed that I was headed out the door to do something exciting, they were jumping at the door, jumping on me, getting in the way, making a lot noise, being big in general. They were very hard to overlook.
Fast forward and my dog today is a small – rat – terrier – chiwawa -ish – rescue named Zilly. He’s a very tidy, polite dog. He’s the kind of dog you say “please” to when you ask him to do something.
One weekend, we were going camping, and we had gotten the car packed, and the kids loaded and we got well down the highway when my husband turns to me and asks, Where’s Zilly?
I had forgotten the damn dog because he lies quietly on his dog bed in the corner, waiting to be invited and included. We had to turn the car around and go back to the house and get him.
All of which is to say, don’t be a Zilly. Don’t sit quietly and passively waiting to be noticed, or rewarded, or recognized.
Your career goals need to be very clear to your manager, who is also consumed with his or her day-to-day and managing his or her own career. These conversations can be tricky, and it really depends on your situation, and your relationship with your management.
But you can keep two considerations in mind as you prepare for these discussions. Okay, let me share my screen again to be really clear on the components of asking for what you want.
You need to think about your ask as a business case. You need to provide a justification to your manager that makes sense for the business. In other words, you take personal considerations out of it.
So, for example, I have a client who is a chemical engineer. She wanted to move her job to a different city due to family considerations, but you could also make the argument that the restructuring made sense for the business.
Her proposal’s first draft was basically a personal appeal, how it would be better for her children, and her parents’ wellbeing. She was appealing to her management’s sympathies, but notice how it potentially puts them in an awkward spot? She’s potentially pitting their personal feelings against the best interests of the business, which their own personal success is tied to. She’s creating an emotionally messy situation for them unnecessarily.
We worked on a presentation where the point was how it made sense for the business in terms of efficiencies, leveraging expertise, delegating appropriately, blah blah blah. In her ask, she didn’t really mention how it was good for her. She took her personal considerations out of it, and made a very simple business case that her management could get behind, without giving them some sort of emotional conundrum to sort through. She made it easy for them.
The second consideration is related: you want to take the business’s perspective in your ask. The difference sounds like this: “I want to work on xyz project because I’ve worked here for five years and it would be a good opportunity for me” as opposed to, “I want to work on xyz project because my organizational knowledge could meaningfully contribute to the project’s success for these reasons: one, two and three.”
Those sound pretty different, right?
I have another client example that is slightly tangential but still relevant because it really illustrates this common mistake. This client is a post-doc scientist applying for tenured faculty positions for the first time – which is a big deal in that world.
In the first draft of his introductory essay he said how excited he was to explore a new city – “Yippee! I’m so excited to move to a new city!” We worked on that essay to make it all about that university’s research and how his research and area of expertise intersects and furthers the faculty’s research. We made the essay about them and how hiring him helps them. Duh, right?
So I know this is a really obvious, but I see this mistake over and over, so it seems kinda worth mentioning. Okay, let me get out of powerpoint, hang on.
I want to make a final point about this pillar of managing your career trajectory:
One of the things I tell my clients, and that I’ve written about over and over in my Seattle Times column, and in my blog, is that If it matters, you prepare.
If you’re about to have an important conversation with your manager about your career, you prepare beforehand. You game out how it could go: If she says this, I’ll say this; if he says that, I’ll say this. You write out at least the first several sentences of your opening. You role play with someone you trust. You don’t improvise when it matters. And this is not a rookie thing. It’s not an admission of weakness or ineptitude. It’s not a sign of a lack of self confidence or experience.
I was reading She Said, which is written by the reporters about how they broke the Harvey Wine-steen story for the New York Times. They describe preparing for the phone call with Wine-steen to tell him they were publishing this bombshell story, and to get his comment.
“Just before 1 p.m. the reporters and [their editor] settled in for the call. They had written out almost every word they planned to say.”
These are professionals at the top of their field – at the New York Times – and they’re still writing out what they’re going to say. That call mattered, a lot, and they prepared for it.
Okay, we’re ready to move on to the second pillar of managing your career and I want to pause and see if there are any questions. Okay, we’re ready to move on to the second pillar: managing your manager. I think this is where a lot of people get tripped up.
We have an expectation that our manager is going to be somehow better, more mature, than they actually are because they have so much power over livelihood and wellbeing; we can lose track that they’re just a human being with good habits and bad habits, strengths and weaknesses, good aspects to their personality and weird foibles. Because of the power differential in the relationship, we can lose track of our manager’s humanity.
My approach to upwards management is, perhaps, a bit cynical. But I do think if you keep this perspective in mind, you have a better understanding of the rules of the game.
Okay, get this: your job as a direct report is to make your manager look good. I’m totally serious about this. If you think about this relationship from this perspective, it clears up a lot of the noise.
If you have a great boss, this is easy to do, you’ll naturally do this because you like, and trust, and respect this person. If you have a terrible boss, this is much harder, and this perspective can be a clarifying principle when you’re struggling.
Let me go into the weeds and tell you exactly what I mean.
First, as you’re going about your day-to-day, keep in mind how you can help your manager. What can you do to make their job easier? What low cost thing can you do to help them shine? By low cost, I mean low cost to your sense of self, to your integrity, to the perception of your competence.
This can be as simple as throwing them a soft ball question or comment in a meeting, to subtly seeding a compliment for them – I’ll talk about compliment seeding later. I don’t really mean brown-nosing, right, I mean it more as a lens through – which – to – think – about – your – role – and – your relationship with your management.
Let me give you an example that a client was dealing with.
This client, mid-management at yet another tech company, doesn’t like or trust her manager. Disorganized leadership, plays favorites, lots of conflict. My client got wind of a problem with one of her manager’s projects that she knew her manager didn’t know about.
So she has a choice: she was perfectly happy to sit back and watch her manager get blindsided and embarrassed. That’s a human reaction I think we can all understand. A little shadenfreude feels pretty good. And that would be a missed opportunity in terms of managing her manager.
She ended up alerting her manager to this problem because – and this is the important part – it was in her best interests to do so, not necessarily because it was the right thing to do, even though of course it was. There are potential, downstream benefits for her in terms of appreciation, goodwill and favors owed, and it didn’t cost her anything – in terms of her integrity — to do so.
As I think about it, brown nosing probably takes a serious toll on your integrity.
When clients talk about competing with their boss, withholding information and ob-fuss-cating, gossiping – it’s a signal that they’re not looking at their career through this lens. They are not helping their manager shine, and that is not in their best interest in terms of managing their career growth – regardless of how good it feels in the moment.
To get even more cynical, I want you to be thinking about how you can manipulate your manager by giving him or her what they need emotionally. Remember, they’re just flawed humans.
Let me tell you another client story to illustrate this. This client is a health care exec. This is a highly qualified, very experienced, senior professional.
She described how much she dreaded one-on-ones with her boss. She said he didn’t understand her job, didn’t seem interested; every 1:1 felt like heavy lifting as she went through her detailed updates.
I asked her more about her boss; what was he like?
She described him as a blow hard; someone who liked to hear himself speak; he didn’t really understand her part of the business; he liked to be the authority, the smartest guy in the room. Can you all picture this guy?
What do you suppose he needs? What is she doing wrong here?
So he needs to be thrown a bone, right? She’s coming to these meetings highly prepared in areas he doesn’t have expertise in, and it’s making him feel bad because he can’t add any value. At least that’s what I think.
I asked her where he does add value: what is he good at, what does he like talking about? She told me that he’s really good at the interpersonal stuff: conflict and politics; something that, in fact, she struggles with.
She changed her approach to the 1:1s and came prepared with a question that she knew he’d enjoy – something that was actually a little bit true: how she might better communicate with a peer or navigate some tricky interaction with a direct report for example.
Again, these are low cost questions: it doesn’t hurt her to ask them. Now he could be an authority; he could feel like he was adding value in the meeting. And she could just provide her updates in an email that he could look at if he wanted to.
I asked her later how the dreaded 1:1s were going, and she said they were so much better – actually helpful. That, in fact, her relationship with her boss had improved. Boom.
Okay, let’s talk about perception. As we- all – well – know – by – now, perception can be more important than reality. In other words, how you are perceived at work can be more important than how you really are at work. It’s like your reputation. It becomes a shortcut of how people think about your specific skills and abilities.
And if your boss has the perception that you are xyz, it can be very, very hard to change that perception.
The thing is, one small incident can shape that perception. So, you screwed up in a meeting once and now you’re not a good communicator; or you got buried in a project and now you’re not strategic; or one of your direct reports complained about something stupid so now you’re not a good manager.
Do you see how the perception of you could really impact your career, regardless of what you’ve actually accomplished? You need to proactively manage a negative perception and I’ll tell you how to do this. Let me give you an example to illustrate this.
I have a client, a senior tech guy. He prides himself on being a thoughtful, careful speaker and doesn’t like speaking extemporaneously about issues he hasn’t had a chance to think through carefully.
His manager has given him feedback that he needs to speak up more, that the team needs his leadership, and that his manager actually wants to hear his opinion. We have feedback – yes! – that he has a reputation of being quiet, perhaps demurring when he should be leaning in.
So we need to change his behavior. And then we need to change the perception of his behavior.
To change his behavior, one of the things we did was game-ify the problem: my client gets a point every time he says something in a meeting and he has to tell me the score at our next coaching session – something like that. Super easy – super silly. This game forces him to practice working through the discomfort of having to express himself before he feels completely ready, which is an important skill, particularly at an executive level where you need to be able to make decisions with incomplete data.
Now we tackle the perception, and there’s kind of a two-step formula to this. In a casual conversation with your manager you: one, you tell her about something you did that works on the perceived problem. And two, you get your boss to acknowledge it, in his or her words.
This second step is important because your manager needs to hear her own voice say that you’ve done something differently. You do this a number of times, and over time her memory of her own voice will start to change the perception she has of you.
Okay, so (1) we’re talked about manipulating your manager, (2) we’ve talked about changing perceptions, now we’re going to talk about over-communicating to your management.
When I have clients tell me that they’re being micromanaged at work, this is where I start. And again, this really obvious and I see this mistake over and over in my office, so maybe it’s worth talking about.
Let me share my screen so you can see the structure I’m building here.
You need to have regularly scheduled 1:1s with your manager. I know, boringly obvious, right? And yet I am stunned when clients tell me they don’t do this, for whatever reason.
Your relationship with your manager is a relationship, and relationships take work. Weekly, biweekly, monthly, whatever works, but it’s on you to try to get these 1:1s in the calendar.
We’ve talked about giving your manager what he or she needs or wants as emotionally manipulative, but consider it from another perspective:
imagine you have a direct report who comes to your 1:1s fully prepared to go into the minutia of their work, but also has a really, interesting, meaty topic that you have a lot of opinions about, and really care about. Wouldn’t it be satisfying to have conversations with that direct report? Wouldn’t you be motivated to try not to cancel those 1:1s?
The other totally obvious tactic to over-communicating is to send a weekly status report. Without fail. I know, I’m sorry, I don’t have some brilliant thing here. This is just really obvious meat and potatoes work.
Hang on, let me get out of share and give you a break from powerpoint. Okay, here’s a story about why the weekly status report is important:
I had a client, a senior sales guy, who complained to me that his manager was always in his business, calling with random questions, second guessing his decisions, derailing meetings by taking over.
I asked him what he includes in his weekly status report. He looked at me blankly. He said he didn’t send a weekly status report.
Well no wonder his boss was constantly calling him and checking on his decisions – he’s starving for information. What looks like micromanagement from one perspective, looks like a lack of trust due to a lack of data from another perspective.
Just create a simple template that your manager can scan quickly; use lots of green, yellow and red so it’s easily parsed. This is all essential CYA, also, by the way. I’m floored that people don’t do this; senior folks who should know better and skip this step – it’s such an easy solution to so many problems.
I’m just going to touch on internal networking here because I’ll go into detail on networking – in – my – next – webinar – in – this – series, next week. — But I wanted to include it as an aspect of managing your manager.
You want to think about building a network of allies up and down the organization.
You being respected, well known, well liked, and highly visible reflects well on your manager, particularly if he or she hired you. And having senior allies helps balance the power differential in the relationship; it helps distribute the risk of your manager having so much power over you and your career.
Okay, we’re ready to get to the last pillar: Managing yourself. Before we jump into that, let me ask Pi-yu whether we have any burning questions? Okay, let me share my screen. We’re now on the last pillar: Managing yourself. Brace yourself, I’m about to break all the powerpoint rules with way too much information.
This slide pains me because we don’t have time to go through it all. This is a short list of some of the topics that regularly come up in my coaching sessions.
I often get inquiries from people who are thinking about coaching but have never worked with a coach and don’t know what coaching can entail – if that’s you, I’m hoping this slide is helpful so you can see what coaching can cover and how it can support you and your career.
This slide is entitled “Managing Yourself: Pride in Yourself” because, as your coach, that’s really all I care about. I want you to be proud of your actions and decisions in your career, and in your life; looking after the topics on this slide can help you get to a place where you are able – to – have – pride – in -yourself.
It’s tough for me to choose which one of these is the most important topic because I love talking about all of them: making small adjustments on any one of these can have significant long-term ripple effects on your career and wellbeing.
But I thought I’d start with Imposter Syndrome, since it’s kind of a thing and it comes up a lot. Let me get out of screen share and save you from this exhausting slide.
I’m pretty skeptical of Imposter Syndrome as some sort of condition or weakness or failing. I tend to think it’s something that just naturally comes up for nice, self-reflective people. It tends to show up in more generalist roles where the definition of success is subjective.
Okay, let me translate that. Very simply, Imposter Syndrome is that panicky feeling that you’re a fraud and everyone’s going to find out. Sound familiar?
Lucky you if you have no idea what I’m talking about! For the rest of us, this is a feeling that can keep you small, that can keep you from taking necessary risks, that can keep you out of the arena.
Let me tell you a personal story to illustrate Imposter Syndrome – in – the – wild and then I’ll explain how to countermand it.
Out of the blue I got a call from a CNN reporter asking me if I’d be available to talk, coincidentally, about Imposter Syndrome. My first reflexive thought was, “I can’t talk to C-N-N about Imposter Syndrome – I don’t know anything about it.” And then my brain did this weird shortcut to: “I’m just a little kid with nothing to say.”
The first step to dealing with Imposter Syndrome is to catch it in the moment. This takes practice.
A trick to recognizing the feeling quickly – before it can do much damage – is to personify it.
For me, the feeling is a lot like the feeling I had as a kid at the dinner table with lots of older brothers and sisters. They’d all be talking and agruing and I couldn’t really compete or get a word in edgewise. So when I have that “little kid” feeling as a 51-year-old, I know that something’s up.
Giving that feeling a character – personifying it — can help you catch it in the moment. And that personification could be anything – I have a client who says his feeling of Imposter Syndrome looks like a kidney bean.
The second step is something called “Disputation.” You need to overwhelm the feeling with evidence. With facts.
For me that sounded like this: Okay, [one] I’ve coached multiple clients on Imposter Syndrome who thought I was immensely helpful to them these are people whom I respect, who I think are really impressive, and if they thought my knowledge of Imposter Syndrome was helpful, then maybe it was.
[two] I’ve written about Imposter Syndrome in the newspaper, and gotten positive feedback and appreciation for my writing from complete strangers.
And [three] I’ve read extensively about Imposter Syndrome to be as helpful as I can for my clients. I do actually know something about Imposter Syndrome.
I was able to flick through all of that evidence disputing the little kid feeling: that’s Disputation.
The third step is to laugh at the feeling. It is ridiculous, right? You’re, say, 20 years into your career and you suddenly have this feeling that you don’t know anything and everybody else does? That’s ridiculous.
I told my husband that I’d just gotten a call from CNN to talk about Imposter Syndrome but I didn’t know anything about Imposter Syndrome. He looked at me like I was nuts. And we started laughing.
And the fourth step is to power through anyway. Suck it up, buttercup. This is a passing feeling, it’s not the truth and it doesn’t get to slow you down.
So you’re scared to talk to the scary journalist – who, when you look her up on LinkedIn, by the way, is like three years out of college and not so scary – but in any case, you’re scared to talk to her? Too bad. Deal. Power through anyway.
You got this.
Okay, that’s a little, mini-coaching session on Imposter Syndrome. I hope that helps.
I want to talk about a common mistake I see clients make – and it’s going to seem like not a big deal. It’s about Thinking Time.
As you well know, one of the hardest jumps to make as you grow in your career is that jump from top performer in terms of execution and getting things done, to the next level where you have a more strategic point – of – view, where you have to keep – the – big – picture – in – mind.
It is very difficult to be strategic when you are buried in the weeds of the day to day.
Let me tell you a story to illustrate this. I have a client with a large team at a – yes, I know – tech company. We were talking about one of his direct reports. She’s doing a great job, she’s on top of all of her projects, she is really executing.
My client needs her to have a more strategic view, and to prioritize her projects against that strategic view.
Right now, she’s doing everything, and is complaining about being overwhelmed by her workload. This is, of course, not sustainable and she’s on track for burnout.
But she’s also short-changing the organization. She’s like a gerbil on a wheel. My client needs her to be a, I don’t know… an eagle? A seagull? An owl?
When my clients complain about being overwhelmed by work, I ask them when they have “Thinking Time” scheduled in their week.
And, once again, they look at me blankly because they don’t have time to sit quietly and think. There’s a big deadline coming up! This is one of the most important things they can do with their time.
What happens if you sit quietly with a cup of coffee and a notebook once a week — maybe first write down all the worries and tasks rattling around in there — and give your brain a chance to just think?
I haven’t a clue what you should think about, because that kind of defeats the purpose of giving your brain space to be inspired, expansive, creative – strategic.
Okay, my client’s direct report is too busy to do any of this because she is doing everything. She needs to prioritize her activity based on her strategy that she is too busy to develop. See the problem she has?
If she can’t take the time to think, then someone will be hired over her to do that thinking for her, which is a shame because she’s very capable and has a lot to offer the organization.
One last thought on this:
Not doing everything is a hard habit to break, particularly for the perfectionists out there. It’s a skill to prioritize what actually matters, and to let the other stuff not get done or at least not get done as well as it could.
You can develop that skill and move upwards, or you can keep doing everything and stay put where you are.
Let’s talk about Executive Presence since it’s so annoying.
I have strong opinions about Executive Presence and who gets to have it, which I’m not going to go into here. I read one of my favorite descriptions of Executive Presence in Isabel Wilkerson’s book Caste, which is a book that has the potential – to – change – your – world – view. I highly recommend.
She describes the alpha female or male in a wild wolf pack: …
I think too often Executive Presence is identified as the dominating, domineering, over-confident, bullying, need-to-be-the-smartest-person-in-the-room-and-everyone-needs-to-know-it personality.
Whereas I think Executive Presence is actually about calm confidence and competence.
Let me tell you a client story to illustrate this. I have a client who was interested in a VP-level role. But he was sure he didn’t have a chance because he thought he lacked Executive Presence.
This is an interesting guy: crazy smart, and no problem talking about the technical aspects of his job from the CEO on down: he is confident in his competence. But he is very socially awkward. And knows it.
As we were talking, he told me a story about a direct report who had a big deadline coming up and was working long hours and staying late at night. My client says that he doesn’t ask his direct reports to do anything he wouldn’t do himself, so he stayed late as well – he just needed to angle his computer screen so that his direct report couldn’t see that he was playing solitaire on his computer as they worked into the night.
This story made me teer up as I pointed out the Executive Presence in this story: He is like the alpha wolf, making sure his pack is safe and supported in the night – time – wilds – of – deadlines – and – pressure.
He got the promotion.
Okay, let me sneak in one last topic here because it’s so important and so useful. It’s around equity. If you’re a member of a marginalized group, you are probably very aware of being sidelined and interrupted and overlooked, of having your ideas ignored and then co-opted. With my clients, this generally shows up in gender dynamics, with some intersectionality.
Let me share two helpful tools. Obviously these are not going to solve any systemic problem, but hopefully they can help, even in a small way, in your individual situation.
The first is amplification. I first read about amplification in a Washington Post article about the women in President Obama’s administration. These women, top of their field, were feeling silenced and sidelined in meetings, and this is with a boss who I imagine was pretty awesome.
They came up with a strategy to amplify each other. This means one woman would say something in a meeting and her colleague would amplify it. So, for example, her colleague would say: “Jane, that’s a really interesting idea you have there. What if we did xyz.” And then Sally could jump in and say, “We can expand further on Jane’s idea by doing abc.”
People in the dominant group can be allies here, and need to be, by intentionally amplifying the voices of their colleagues in the marginalized group.
A second tool is something I call compliment conducting. And this isn’t really a thing, it’s just a term I made up. Compliment conducting is the skill of seeding a compliment behind the scenes. You’re prompting someone else who is in a better position to give the compliment. I think of this like the midfielder toeing a pass up to the striker.
So for example, I was coaching two colleagues, both women. They’re in construction management and were talking about some of the challenges of that environment. One of the women admitted that she didn’t think she was tough enough for the work. The other woman was like, the guys love you.
I could see that the compliment didn’t register at all. So as a “compliment conductor” I asked for details, rather than just letting it go.
One of the details was that “the guys” ask for her specifically because they know she will keep them safe in a physically dangerous work environment. I could see compliment spread through my client’s body language. To stretch my soccer metaphor: it was a goal.
You can also seed a brag. Say, for example, you know a colleague has done something cool, and you know they’re not going to talk about it because they clearly need a coach. By asking them questions about this accomplishment, you are helping them self-promote, you are giving them cover so they can brag and be visible.
If you are in a marginalized group, who can you ally with to conduct compliments towards each other? If you are in the dominant group, whom are you seeding compliments to? Every day.
Let me close out by returning to where I started: that knot thing. That was an example of how to answer what I call Dreadful Questions. These are the tough and predictable questions that you know you are going to get in a networking conversation – and I’ll talk about some of them in detail in my webinar next week.
So with that, we can jump into a Q&A.