Is Being Visible the Secret to Success?
We’ve all experienced it at some point in our lives, in one way or another. There was an opportunity you wanted which you were well-suited for but it went to someone else, who might not have been as good a choice as you. The reason may well have been down to visibility. No, it’s not fair, and no, it doesn't really make sense. But that’s life; visibility is essential to success.
For an ambitious person, just being great at your job isn't enough. The important people need to know who you are and why you're great. Or, to use the old cliché, it’s not only what you know but who you know. We need to take responsibility here, because we can’t just rely on favourable circumstances or our line-managers singing our praises to boost our profiles.
The Harvard Business Review recently conducted some research on professional progression involving an exercise with 240 senior leaders of an unnamed Silicon Valley tech company. They discovered that the most important factor in promotion to their level wasn’t ability, leadership skills or even results; it was visibility. In order to climb the ranks then, we need to try and make ourselves more visible to the top dogs in the company we work for. Unfortunately for women, it seems that this is not quite as easy as it is for men; another exercise as part of the same research discovered that the techniques men use to get positive visibility work negatively for women. “He is a driver; she is demanding and bossy. He is quick; she is agitated” quoted one of the participants. Even in the tech industry, unconscious bias is a still problem in the workplace.
Bonnie Marcus from Forbes argues that there are less women in senior roles because they lack the ability to promote themselves. She writes that men feel more entitled to promotions, and as such promote themselves more, focusing on their future potential as well as their achievements, whereas women tend to stick to their past exploits. If so, is this perhaps a defence mechanism resulting from feeling outnumbered by a male-dominated executive suite? In any case, it’s safe to say that a requisite for promotions are a combination of past and promise. So make sure the important people know you’ve got both.
Now here’s the tricky bit: how do you make yourself visible at work without appearing bossy, aggressive or over-assertive? The answer will vary slightly depending on your workplace environment, but here are some key things to think about:
1. Consider your Employers’ Values
Integrity, dedication and respect are the basic ones, but what are the specific principles of your employers? Embody them. By doing so, you let your bosses know you understand what they are trying to achieve.
2. Be a Mentor
Whether it’s a mentoring program, a new member of the office or just someone who could do with some help or advice, be that helping hand. You’ll improve your own skills too, as well as becoming more popular at work and more visible to your superiors as someone with potential for leadership.
3. Use Body Language
This is really important. When listening, stand/sit up straight and make sure your body is pointing towards who’s talking. Likewise, when speaking, use body language to help convey ideas with gestures. You will maintain your audience’s attention and they will understand you better. Find out more about body languages secrets used by successful people here.
4. Do Your Research
This may be an obvious one, but doing minimal research about a topic or problem at work will make you stand out. Of course, be careful not to appear aggressive by taking every opportunity to show off your knowledge. Better to wait for the right opportunities to arise.
5. Speak to Everyone
A simple “good morning” can go further than you think. Even a smatter of small-talk with the stranger who happens to be using the coffee machine the same time as you can result in an unexpected opportunity. It’s all about becoming a familiar face. This extends to work socials too. At a social at one particular job I chatted with the manager of a different department (though I didn’t know he was at the time) who ended up telling his department that I was the best person to speak to for advice in my team. He didn’t know that, he just didn’t know anyone else in my team, so I got all those extra opportunities. Instead of just saying, go down to the “Brisbane branch, they’ll sort you out”, he’d say “ask for Spike, he’ll sort you out.”
6. Be Yourself
Again, it sounds trivial, but people do feel much more comfortable when they feel like they’re seeing the real person rather than a pretence. Offices need characters, and people are much more likely to trust others if they feel like they know them. Don’t be afraid to give your opinion either, you’ll be respected all the more for it.
On Spike’s journey through life, he has walked 550 miles across Spain, spent 6 months in a tent in Australia surfing, hiking, and jumping off waterfalls; while funding himself busking with his guitar, volunteered at an English school in the Cambodian countryside, and got married on a deserted beach in Fiji. Spike has documented his travels through his blog, and his Instagram. After travelling the world for four years, he now studies law in London where he lives with his Catalan wife.