Seriously, though …

The situation is this: Bob is an executive who doesn’t believe he is taken seriously by his new immediate manager (an SVP of a publicly traded company) and his manager’s associated leadership team. His boss disagrees with his ideas and approaches for the business, and questions his overall ability to ‘think strategically.’

He categorizes Bob as a tactical, execution oriented executive, with questionable business accumen. He has been held back from the illusive EVP title primarily due to this perception. The facts are: Bob has been exemplary in his executive position for over 10 years, is viewed by the CEO of this company (as well as many others) as extremely competent, trustworthy, and a consistent ‘performer’ in his position.

He has built a reputation in the market for his subject matter expertise, and for being accountable in difficult situations. He has built a sustainable business over the years, which has created a tremendously successful unit for his company. So, what’s the deal? If the CEO, and his primary constituents, admire and support this person – why are we concerned about the new boss?

Well, consider this: the CEO may be retiring soon, the ‘game is changing’ in the company’s culture with this new boss and his constituents. At this point, right or wrong, the new boss is making assessments based solely upon what he sees and experiences today; not the exemplary track record built over time. Bob is at risk of not ‘fitting in’ in the new organization; and being taken seriously by his new boss for greater positions of responsibility.

Have you ever been in a position such as this? The game is changing – internally and externally. You are not in the new boss’s inner circle (they were brought in from the outside, from the company where they all used to work). The initial perception of you from the new chain of command is not ideal; based on differing values, metrics, strategic directions, or just lack of true visibility of your contribution. So what do you do?

Here are a few suggestions (certainly not all inclusive) on what to think about.

Who are you, what do you offer and why should they care?

The sad reality is that often employees aren’t automatically respected or appreciated. In order to earn this distinction, we must increase our awareness of others, and then tune our behaviors to align with what people already care about. Are you, or what you provide, relevant to them and to your company at large? Your value may seem obvious to you, yet frankly, people simply aren’t thinking about you – they are thinking about themselves. It is not enough to be good and credible in our work. This is where “what’s in it for them” comes into play.

We have to show we are bringing unique value to them. Unfortunately, doing the job (and well) is not enough. To position ourselves as truly strategic and relevant to the company, we must change our perspective about the value we personally provide which impacts the bottom line, the top line, client satisfaction, or whatever the strategic objectives are for the company. A clear and direct line must be drawn showing how what we are providing impacts the bigger picture. If we have to explain what we do, then by definition it is probably not perceived as relevant or strategic. Make the strategic alignment and value of what you deliver clear to everyone.

For what or for whom are you in ‘service’ (and do others share this perception)?

In the end, we are in service to others. Often this is where we get tripped up: either we don’t really know who/what we are servicing or, just as often, those who we are serving do not realize it – and they have not tied what we offer to their overall success. How do we remedy this? Two easy steps:

  1. Ask the stakeholders in the organization what they care about. What is their list of strategic objectives? What does success look like to them? What role/s do you play or could you play in helping achieve this – in their words, not yours. Think of the end ‘consumer or customer’ – how does your service impact the overall offering? Yes, it is necessary to learn to stand on your own two feet. Yet, the minute we find ourselves in that position, then we reach out our arms to others. That makes us relevant, and strategic, to them.
  2. Talk in language they can understand – talk like them. We often get jumbled by all the acronyms and jargon. Keep it simple – use their words about what you offer. In the New York Times this past Sunday, Eduardo Castro-Wright, vice chairman of Wal-Mart Stores spoke about the criticality of keeping things simple. How right he is. Use their goals, their strategies, and their success metrics – then tie what you do to their ‘end game.’ When dealing with a new boss further enhance this approach by treating the new boss as you would a customer. You are constantly ‘selling’ what you do, offer, provide and deliver – externally and internally. Make it easy for them to ‘get it’ and to tie your job/deliverables to the overall success of the organization.

How do you show up?

As Woody Allen says, Eighty percent of success is showing up.” How do you show up? Think of leaders you have served with in your careers – or those you have witnessed through life. What are the common characteristics? Passion, commitment, quiet confidence, intellect, courage, authenticity…..

Are your inner intentions aligned with your outer appearances? Are your actions congruent with your words? There is enormous appeal and power in authenticity – in thought, word, and deed. You may be the smartest person in the room; yet, if you don’t show up in a way that is ‘congruent’ through and through it won’t ring true or sincere, and you will not be taken seriously.

People’s perceptions are real. In order to be most effective in any organization, you must show up in a way that is not only authentic to oneself; yet, also in authentic alignment to the overall strategic intention of the organization. If you are not able to do this, either by choice or capability, you compromise your ability to be successful in that organization.

Your Personal Brand

This leads us to your ‘personal brand.’ There have been many books written about a ‘personal brand’ which is simply a larger manifestation of how we show up. Our brand is developed by how we consistently show up. Tom Peters wrote an incredibly succinct article in Fast Company earlier this year on creating your own personal brand. This is definitely an article worth reading.

One big takeaway is that we are in charge of our own brand – the ‘brand’ of Me, Inc.

  • How do you want to be remembered?
  • How would you want to be described?
  • How do you want to be referred consistently?

More than ever, our personal brand is a pivotal component of our careers. Once you decide on what “extra value” you are going to add to the business, make sure you are supporting that with consistent behaviors, communication styles, and even appearance and dress – this will create your brand.

So, back to Bob – is he all washed up or is there still hope for him to change these perceptions and be taken more seriously? He absolutely can refine his ‘brand’ and be taken more seriously. It is, as with all things, totally his choice. There may times when your values or strategic intentions may not be congruent with your company and/or a new boss. It becomes a point of personal integrity and staying true to ‘who you are, what you offer, what you want’, and whether this is ‘in sync with’ and valued by the new regime. Then, a decision point may arise: do I stay or do I go? Bob may be in this position.

What steps might Bob take to help make him make the right decisions?

He can start by understanding the new ‘end game’ and how he can uniquely be in service to his new boss and his strategy. He can then determine what he wants them to ‘think, say, or do’ each time he meets with them; which will help him create his personal brand. Staying true to himself, to his unique value proposition to the organization, and how he personally shows up can position him as a valued player.

In parallel, he can determine, through others’ thoughts, words, and deeds, if what he has to offer is valued by his leadership. If so, he has the potential to be a person vital to the team….if not, he has the choice to become aligned with another company who shares the same values and strategic intentions. Either way, the choice is his.