The Leader’s Edge/Leaders By Design is proud to introduce
October’s featured coach, Jane Beale.
Throughout this month Jane will be answering your career and leadership development questions. If you have a specific question you would like Jane or one of our future feature coaches to answer please submit it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
My company is very supportive of people with families and allow women to work from home when necessary, as long as the work gets done. I have three small children, and find myself working remotely 2-3 days a week when I’m not traveling. That works well for me and my family, but I’m noticing that I’ve become invisible; I’m not getting invited to the meetings I need to attend, and I’m finding it hard to maintain collegial relationships with my peers. What can I do to keep from falling through the cracks?
A common dilemma! And one that you need to take charge of. Evaluate your priorities very carefully. I know your family is important to you, and I’m glad you recognize that you have a serious issue. I’d say you need to find balance, but I’m not sure that exists. Most of us have to juggle, multi-task and constantly bob and weave. So make a plan that ensures you’re in the office more frequently (I’m hoping you have some child care options). When you’re in the office, don’t sit at your computer all day; reach out to colleagues and get around the department. Walk to your colleagues’ offices rather than depend on emails and texts. Have strategic lunches, find out what people are doing. Try to save your computer and project work for when you can work at home. One of the most dangerous career pitfalls is being invisible. Also, make sure your manager knows your long term career goals and encourage him/her to give you feedback on a regular basis. It is doable.
I recently took a risk that turned out badly. I was working for a company going through great change and was feeling under-appreciated. I received a call from a recruiter, decided to explore some outside options, and was quickly hired by another company in my industry. The interview process was rather complicated and confusing; I got a lot of mixed messages about the company’s culture and values. Despite some reservations, I took the job. By the time I arrived for my first day, the new company had changed dramatically. The woman I was meant to report to was gone. I’m suddenly reporting to someone I hadn’t met. I’ll spare you the gory details, but will say I lasted 6 hard weeks. The original company has invited me back and I’m inclined to go, but I have a nagging negative feeling about crawling back. I’m also nervous about how to explain this short-term job when I interview elsewhere. What should I do?
Sorry that turned out so poorly! You can chalk it up to lessons learned. But go back to the company where you were miserable? Not a great idea. Why don’t you make a list of all the reasons you left them in the first place; be sure to look at their mission and values. Then dust off your resume and investigate what else is out there. It’s really important that you have a crisp, honest reason for accepting that job and then leaving. Briefly describe some of the changes that took place there between your accepting the job and arriving there. And then move on to all the great things you have to offer another company. Your self-confidence is going to be key. Taking a risk, even if it doesn’t work out, is nothing to be ashamed of.
My manager recently left the company because of illness. She was replaced by someone from one of our subsidiary companies. Unfortunately, the change in command took place during a time of reorganization. I had put my name forward for a promotion and felt optimistic about my chances. When I heard I didn’t get the job, I asked the new manager why. He said that they needed someone with International experience, so of course they couldn’t pick me. Actually, I spent two years in Latin America and 3 in our Hong Kong office; I speak 4 languages fluently and have the highest performance ratings. Where did I go wrong?
Ouch! That’s a sad though not uncommon problem; one would think a newly-placed manager would quickly delve in to the files of his/her staff. It seems that often doesn’t take priority. In the future you need to make a point of sitting with a new manager, presenting your credentials and detailing your goals. It doesn’t need to be a long meeting, but you need to make sure it happens. This situation is a good reminder that you need to: a) be on top of your strengths, skills and goals, b) have sponsors in the company who can look out for you, and c) be visible to key stakeholders.
Good luck establishing a successful working relationship with this manager!
I was recently passed over for a promotion because I don’t “look like a leader.” My manager was a little vague in his feedback, but said basically I dress too casually, act intimidated by senior management and can’t be heard on those few occasions I participate in meetings. I’m a little embarrassed and hurt about it, but know I need to do something. I came back from maternity leave 14 months ago, and have had some problems balancing everything. I haven’t really lost my ‘baby weight’ and haven’t been able to wear some of my better suits. I don’t want to buy new clothes till I feel better about myself. I guess I understand the part about my voice (I’ve heard that before), but not sure how to address it. I’m an excellent employee and I’m struggling with wondering why the physical side matters. Help!
That conversation was probably as tough for your manager as it was for you and you should be grateful that he took the time to talk. It can seem superficial to put such weight on the visual side of your presence. But people expect leaders (and emerging leaders!) to look like credible professionals. I absolutely feel your pain about not wanting to buy new clothes, but you should go immediately and get some work wear that will make you feel good about yourself. And make sure your hair and makeup is professional. You’ll be surprised at how good you’ll feel and how it will fuel your self-confidence. Also, you must work on the ‘small’ voice. Ask your HR partner if there are development courses that you might take to work on projecting and sounding stronger. Hopefully there will be. In the meantime, ask someone in your group, who you can trust, to help you informally. He/she can give you feedback after meetings as you practice your skill. And remember it is a skill, and like all skills, practice makes perfect!
My manager took me aside after a recent meeting and told me I wasn’t contributing to the big picture, and it’s time I demonstrate strategic skills! The meeting was a typical free-for-all and I must admit, I wasn’t very aggressive about jumping into the conversation. I did, however, prepare the handouts and I know they were well-done. I’ve been in my position for 2 years, and am considered the go-to person who can always finish major projects successfully. Though I’m invited to most meetings, I frequently can’t attend as I’m at my desk working. I believe I have strategic ability, but not sure how to prove it.
Many women we’ve worked with have needed to step out from behind their stack of research and data and get involved at a strategic level. That can be a challenge! When you excel at the details and the execution, it’s hard for you (and others!) to automatically include you in planning and design. A few suggestions: go to those important meetings. Whatever is on your desk will still be there when you return! Consider it top priority to immerse yourself in the topic and participate in the high-level conversations.
Make sure you get your voice heard at every meeting, even if it seems like a small contribution. Your colleagues need to know you’re involved and have something to say. If you have direct reports, make sure you’re delegating appropriately; they may need some nurturing, but the pay-off will be huge. And use strategic language when you talk! Talk about the enterprise and your contribution to the whole. Don’t just talk about your work and the work of your team. As you climb the corporate ladder you’ll be doing less execution and more of the strategy. I’d loop back to your boss and tell him/her that you understand his comments and will exhibit new behaviors immediately and that you do see the big picture. Good luck!
I just received my annual performance review and was very upset to hear that I’m perceived as someone who doesn’t listen to the opinions of others and that I shut down conversation once I have my solution. What should I do?
It’s not uncommon to want to rush to a solution; we all work hard and fast, and there’s not always time to truly collaborate. I assume you’re in a senior position and that the voices you aren’t hearing belong to peers and direct reports. Even if you believe you know the answer/solution to a question at hand, you need to give others the opportunity to be heard. Do this before offering your solution. When people think they’re not being heard, they often close down. If you’re in a real time bind, make sure you save time at the end of meetings (10 minutes or so) to allow others to share their thoughts. You may be surprised by what you hear, and your colleagues will feel part of a team. By implementing my suggestions I’m confident that your next performance review will be much different.