When you were working as an individual contributor, you may have been very goal oriented and appraised for showing results. Has anything changed now that you’ve been promoted to a management role? Have you heard your boss telling you that you need to work on your visibility? Have you questioned yourself: “Why should I care about visibility if I am not a politician or a showman, but a production manager?” “Why should I as a development team lead care about an image?” “And what the hell does he mean about visibility?” You might also be in a situation where you think your boss comes from a competitive culture where “showing off” is part of a game, and you are coming from a culture of “collective success,” where an individual’s modesty and self-effacement is valued. “So why does he ask me to go against my culture and make myself more visible?” Well, the right question to ask in such a situation is, what does your boss actually mean by “visibility?”
The story for today is about Michelle. She had been a successful junior manager for a long time as judged by her results and the way she had managed her team, but her boss saw greater potential in her. At the same time, Michelle was ambitious. She wanted to grow further and level up. She had not understood why her boss refused to promote her for a long time. He had been talking about visibility and how she should present herself more across organization. When she asked him if he thought that the results of her team were bad or if she was not managing her team well, she always got “no” as a response. The results were good enough or even great, and she was leading her team well, but that was it. Not many people knew about what great results her team achieved outside the team itself. And not many people in the company even knew about Michelle. She spent most of her working time sitting in her office, and she rarely talked to people outside scheduled meetings.
One day Michelle asked her boss for more guidance on how she should work on her visibility. He explained to her that what he really meant, was networking and building influence across the organization. He used the comparison with politicians and Michelle finally understood. She and her team knew how to get results and help grow the business, but her desired promotion would happen only if she could spread this truthful image to those outside her team. After this conversation, Michelle started to present results of her team to the wider audience she agreed on with her boss. She also got engaged more in building relationships across the organization outside her department. She spoke more at meetings, including those where more senior leaders in the organization were present. Michelle also took charge of several initiatives to improve cooperation among departments and improve processes. And she spent much more time outside her office, checking in with her team and talking with other managers about how things were going. Thanks to all these activities, when her boss suggested her for promotion he received support from senior leaders across the organization.
Do you still think you can be a successful manager without being visible? Or do you think the changes Michelle made were only good for her promotion but otherwise had zero effect on results and thus, were useless? Well, it depends on what success means to you. If it means that your team gets things done and nothing more, you might be just “fine.” But, if it means also being able to accelerate the growth of the business and improve processes outside your team, you need to create an influence across the organization, and I can guarantee that visibility matters, if you want to make this happen. Without being visible you can hardly be influential. And being influential, you get more buy-in anytime you need to accelerate a project that needs the involvement of people outside your team.
In my last blog post I talked about how empowering others is important. This post is about empowering yourself! Here are a few tips on what to do to create the visibility that will bring you credibility, influence, and partnerships you need to expand your impact on business:
Be visible, but truthful! You can be a “showman” without exaggeration.
Identify stakeholders’ circles to better target your “show.” Stakeholders are all those people who are affected by the results of your work or the work of your team, or those by whose results you are affected.
Make yourself visible by letting others shine! Give your team credit, and praise them publicly. Let them enjoy the show. You can even ask a subordinate to present his project plan to your management group.
Build relationships with leaders across the organization.
Speak up during the meetings whenever you can contribute anything others might value. You do not have to comment on everything, but be involved.
Collect feedback on the work of your team and yourself and act on it. Work on improvements. And always follow-up later to inform those who provided you with feedback about actions and results, and ask for their feedback again.
Be resourceful and take initiative. Work on improvements and help the business grow.
Last, but not least, work on your communication and presentation skills. Based on my own experience, one of the ways to do that almost free of charge is by joining a Toastmasters club in your city.