Leading up to the annual Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, the town is truly overrun by triathletes. These swimmers, cyclists and runners do not need to don a t-shirt or tattoo that says they are elite athletes – although some of them do. Everything about them already shouts, “I’m a superior human specimen.” It is in their walk, their confidence, their gear, their clothes, their shoulders, their friends, their vitamin drinks…there is no mistaking what they are about.
In business, it is not so easy to be seen and identified for what we are. It might be helpful if people came to work with labels that say, “Team Builder,” “Negotiator,” “Creative Thinker,” “Problem-Solver,” but they don’t. So, it is up to us as individuals to be seen and recognized for the value we bring.
Visibility is a key determinant of business success, but for some reason, many of us maintain a very low profile, especially women. And that can keep us from getting the job, promotion, pay raise or any number of things we want. What is worse is we do it to ourselves! Maybe we were raised not to attract too much attention, or to put others first, but for whatever reason, we have control over how visible we are.
Early in my career, I attended an all-employee meeting called by the leader of the organization. I was young, new to the company and very excited about getting to know my co-workers and starting my job. I eagerly came to the meeting, brought my notepad and sat down right in the middle of the room. I was not going to miss a thing.
Unfortunately, within the first few minutes, I caught on that the meeting was one big grievance session. Some – okay, many – of my new co-workers were not happy that my position was filled “from outside” the organization, instead of from within.
Later that day, a co-worker came to my office and tried to apologize on behalf of the entire organization and express his embarrassment for the unwelcoming introduction to the company. He felt sorry for me as he described me as a “Shrinking Violet” in the meeting, physically sinking into my chair and trying to become invisible.
As kind as this individual was, being called a “Shrinking Violet,” is no compliment. And yes, being visible comes with risks, but it also comes with rewards. All of us are limited on time and energy, so we cannot afford to play small.
As Eli Wallach said to Kate Winslet in the 2006 film, “The Holiday,” “In the movies, we have leading ladies and we have the best friend. You, I can tell, are a leading lady, but for some reason, you’re behaving like a best friend.”
So, here’s how to stop playing a minor role and step into your visibility:
Be Intentional. Woody Allen may have said “80% of success is showing up,” but why not boost that percentage by showing up with intention? Whatever the business function, you are there to participate, so behave that way. If it’s a meeting, author and talk show host Mel Robbins suggests you choose a seat in the middle of the action and she doesn’t want you acting like the scribe, unless that’s your job. If your head is down looking at what you’re typing, writing or doodling, no one can see you.
Be Visible. You can’t be appreciated if no one knows what you’re doing. Robbins suggests keeping a list of progress you’ve made on projects each week and sending it to your supervisor or team leader. It may seem obvious to you, but most people are so busy with their own lists they aren’t keeping track of what you’re doing.
Be Valuable. Presumably you do the work you do because you have something to contribute. In meetings or projects, bring value. Demonstrate that you’re engaged, you’ve been thinking about the topic, or you’ve read up on the latest research. No one will know this unless you speak up. Have you ever been to a meeting and couldn’t remember if a certain individual was in the room? Don’t be that person. If you don’t have something new to say, Robbins suggests vocally offering support to what someone else has said. And if there’s a job to be done or a project to lead, volunteer to take it on.
Stop Qualifying. We all feel vulnerable at times and author Brené Brown says that’s not a weakness. In “Rising Strong,” she writes, “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome.” So, be courageous and don’t discount yourself by leading with a qualifier that basically excuses you for something silly you might say, like “I’m new here, so…” or “I may not understand how things work, but…” This is acting-small behavior. Believe me, there are enough people out there who will try to make you feel small. Don’t be the one to take yourself down!
The Shrinking Violet of the 1960s was a character whose ability to make herself small was actually considered a superpower. But as we’ve learned, Shrinking Violets rarely are rewarded in the workplace. Triathletes, however, like strong business leaders, have the courage to sweat, limp and fall right in front of everyone. And because of their willingness to be vulnerable and visible, we see their strength. FBN
By Bonnie Stevens
Bonnie Stevens is a public relations consultant. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.