How to Get Noticed as a Leader– Before You've Led a Team

Last week “John” shared his “No Diaper Genie!” frustration in the middle of our high-potential leadership development program.

Yeah, I get that I’m here… and the company is investing in me and all that. But my boss keeps saying, “You’re not ready to be promoted, you’ve never led a team. I can’t recommend you for that particular promotion now, give it time”

but the truth is, my job is 18 times more complex than any front-line supervisor. I’m neck-deep in a complex organizational structure doing really strategic work and making an impact. How do I get noticed?”

Flashback to about 20 years ago, when I looked at my boss, Mary Ann, and said almost EXACTLY those same words. I had a masters degree and most of a Ph.D., I was gung ho working really long hours, thinking strategically, and contributing in any way that I could.

And she said the words I found remarkably frustrating and stupid at the time…

Karin, “What’s for you won’t miss you. We’ve got a lot of old-fashioned ways of thinking and being around here… but you’re bigger than all that. Stay the course. Show up as the leader you think the guys three levels up should be.”

And so I did. And as it turns out, Mary Ann was right. It didn’t miss me.

Five Ways to Get Noticed As a Leader Before You’ve Led a Team

Be so good it’s hard to notice. Here are five ways to make a leadership impact before you have a team.

  1. Master the art of the tough conversation.
    Be the guy that can give tough feedback to peers, project team members and even your boss in a way that makes them feel valued and grateful. People will then seek you out as a trusted advisor). Here’s a tool that can help INSPIRE feedback model for project managers For some additional inspiration, you can see part of my Managing the Art of the Tough Conversation keynote here.
  2. Rock your role.
    Yes, yes, you’ve heard this from me before (see related advice here).  But I can’t tell you how many people come to me each week frustrated that they’re not at the next level, and when I ask about their current performance they shrug that off because “they’re bored and ready for more.”  Not a chance. I would never promote you if you’re not showing up consistently as a high-performer, and neither should your boss.
  3. Be sure every meeting you attend is better because you were there.
    You can pull that off in a variety of ways: help keep the team on track by separating “Where are we going?” conversations “How will we get there?” discussions; help to clarify and summarize action items, “Who will do what by when and how will we know?” Invite softer spoken team members to offer their contributions.  See more ideas for running effective meetings here.
  4. Keep your boss informed of your strategic contribution.
    When done well, it’s not bragging. It’s useful– and when you’re adding more value, so are they. Here’s a free huddle planner to help you have more productive one-on-ones with your boss.
  5. Practice Two-level thinking.
    When faced with a difficult business problem or when you’re asked to do something that feels challenging think, “Why is this important to my boss’ boss?” If you can’t come up with a good answer, ask your immediate manager to help you think it through. Everyone wants to have team members who “get it” and want to make a more strategic impact on the business.

If you want to stand out as a leader, don’t wait until you have a formal title. Leading without authority is the best way to stand out “as a natural” and get noticed for what you bring to the scene.

How To Succeed As Scope And Scale Increases

“Sam” was beaming with excitement as he told me about his promotion. He was in the throws of a transition from supervisor to manager, He’ll now lead leaders.

“But it’s scary,” he added. “I know I have to handle this whole thing differently. I was very close to my team. We talked about everything and shared common interests. Now I must distance myself, not share too much, not get too close.”

Sam continued with the list of all her other behaviors that MUST change. I heard none of what must stay the same, as his scope increased. Now I was scared.

And then there’s “Jenny”. I gave Jenny an assignment because of her strategic mind and strong leadership. The role was enormous and there was much to learn. We met to discuss her performance agreement and goals, and I asked, “So what’s your strategy?” Silence. “What are you doing to build your team?” Crickets.

She’d been doing a great job learning and keeping things moving, that she wasn’t yet leveraging her best gifts, the ability to transform. Jenny came back a week later with the rock star plan I knew she had inside her.

How to Scale Well as Scope Increases

Transitions in scope and scale are tricky. Continue to do ALL of what worked at the last level, and you will surely fail. On the other hand, don’t make the mistake of abandoning your best characteristics and approaches. I’ve seen too many leaders lose themselves in the transitioning process.

Translate the Landscape

You’ve got a new view, share it, up, down, and sideways. Some of the puzzle is coming together for you in a new way. Capture that feeling and share it with your team. Explain the strategy as you would have wanted it explained to you yesterday. It works upwards and sideways as well. Share your perspective about how the latest processes and policies are playing out in the field. Combine your old knowledge and new insights into an enlightened and integrated perspective– play this well, and you’ll be brilliant.

Be Visible and Invisible

As a leader at a new level, your best bet is high visibility. Be approachable. But don’t get in the way. Nothing will annoy your new team more than having your door so wide open, that everyone jumps over them to get to you. Respect your team and their authority. Unless something is up that needs a skip level intervention, tread lightly before taking action. Serve your direct report team well. Help them lead their teams more effectively by working through, not around them.

Listen, Learn, and Be Strategic

Go on a listening tour and learn all you can, but don’t react. You’ll be tempted to jump in and fix stuff because you know how. That’s not your job anymore. Delegate the immediate fixing, and then take it up a notch. Look for patterns. Consider the strategic implications and root causes. Build cross-functional teams to tackle the challenges to make a greater impact.

Build Better Leaders

Your most important work as a leader of leaders is helping them grow. The tragic truth is that many leaders spend less time developing their leaders as they increase in scope. Reverse that trend. I have increased the percentage of time I devote to developing leaders as I have moved up the ladder. Nothing will drive results faster than strong leadership at every level.

Respond, But Never React

The fires burn more fierce the higher you go. The issues on your desk are real, and often urgent. Great leaders pause, listen, gather facts, and respond. Sure, that response must often be quick, but frantic reaction slows down helpful behavior. Learn to keep your cool, early in the game.

Become a Roadblock Buster

Spend time making things easier for your team. Find out where they’re stuck, and offer to remove roadblocks. Two cautions here. First, don’t jump in without asking. Too much help will make your team feel like you don’t trust them, or look like they’re running to their boss. Second, teach while you’re busting down those barriers. And for Pete’s sake be sure YOU’RE not the roadblock. Respond quickly with needed approvals and work to diminish unnecessary time wasters and bureaucracy.

Invest in Your Development

Many leaders spend less time on their own development the further up they go. Big mistake. As scope and scale increases, so does your responsibility to lead well. Get a coach. Have a collection of mentors. Read constantly. Interact in the LGL community.

Multiplier of the Year

If you feel so inclined, I would appreciate your vote for Multiplier of the Year voting ends on 01/31. I think this would be a cool way to spread the word about our community.  Click here to cast your vote. Thank you!

Do They Hear What You Hear?

He wants to be promoted, but something’s missing. You feel it, your boss feels it, but it’s hard to put your finger on it. He’s completed all the action plans, and has done everything you’ve asked. Look more deeply, does he hear what you hear?

“Happy is the hearing man; unhappy the speaking man.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

The leap to the next level requires a keen sense of hearing. It’s an acquired skill, hard to explain in your development program. HR knows it too, but it’s unlikely they’d let you include it in the job description.

What They Must Hear

The Look in Their Eyes – Strong leaders commit to the moment. They can’t be searching for words or remembering the talk track. And they REALLY can’t get stuck on the script. Teach your growing leaders to watch the room and the look in their eyes. If the crew’s not tracking, it’s time to regroup. Teach them to search deeper. Help them change their approach ( not their values). Look for alternative doors to open similar possibilities.

Political Undertones – Great hearing starts long before the talking begins. Assign hearing homework. Help them assess the landscape and positions, BEFORE they plan their presentation.

Bigger Context – It’s hard to speak like an executive when you don’t have a clue. Give them enough insights to present an integrated view.

Meaning in Data – Teach interpretation not regurgitation. Leaders must pull meaning and implications for results. If there’s a gap, or a trend be sure they can explain it. Not tap dancing… thoughtful analysis and understanding. Help them show up as the expert.

The Unsaid – Every now and then your growing leader will step into an unexpected landmine. If the entire room reacts like they’re in a Harry Potter movie, where someone just named “the one who can’t be named.” Teach them to stop, take it off-line, and understand more before continuing.

Ready or Not? Do I Really Want That Management Gig?

You’re the best at what you do. You’re a technical genius. You skip to work. And now you’re feeling pressured to move to the next level. You’re honored, and humbled. It would mean more money.

But, you see what your boss goes through. All those people problems. Questions of job security make you queasy.

You are not alone.

Ready, Set Go, Management Here I Come

 A few signs you may be ready

You…

  • believe in the organization’s mission and values
  • are the go-to guy for your peers
  • always fill in when the boss is away
  • find filling-in fulfilling
  • ask great questions
  • have a vision
  • are fired up
  • enjoy inspiring
  • want to make a difference
  • want others to succeed
  • you’re scared (that’s okay)
  • ?

Oh, No, This is Not For Me

Some signs it’s not the time

You…

  • want them to do it your way
  • disagree with senior leadership most of the time
  • find helping a hassle
  • are most attracted to the money
  • dread filling in
  • LOVE the technical parts of the job
  • hate stress
  • crave affirmation
  • detest meetings
  • need a fixed schedule
  • abhor change
  • ?