It seems award and recognition season is upon us. Between RBC’s Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards, WXN’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women Awards, Profit Magazine’s Top 100 and a number of other nomination-led programmes, the opportunity to be recognized for your professional achievements and judged by an independent advisory panel, are all around us. So how does the average business woman achieve such recognition? Must you wait to be ‘tapped’ on the shoulder, and receive an award as you would a compliment – graciously and with just a hint of self-depreciation? Or are there ways you can actively raise your profile and position yourself for this kind of promotion?
Drawing on lessons learned and observed, I have pieced together top ten ways for women in business to raise their professional profile.
1. Be memorable. Standing out from the crowd and gaining recognition for your accomplishments requires that the people remember you. The people who are most memorable are those who take time to remember small details about others. Pay close attention to the people you meet and their interests. Make a point of using their name. Remember things they have shared with you; projects they are working on, people they are working with, challenges they are facing, or some other detail they have revealed. When you recall something about them the next time you meet, you will make a lasting impression.
2. Network beyond borders. First impressions count, while familiarity can breed contempt. These are not tired clichés but valuable principles to consider in your networking. The best opportunities to raise your profile may come from beyond your usual circles, when you meet and collaborate with people you wouldn’t normally work with. New connections can cast your potential in a new light, and help you see untapped possibilities. Explaining what you do and how you do it to people who are unfamiliar with your work helps to hone your elevator pitch and maintain relevance in an ever-widening circle of influence.
3. “Ask not what your country can do for you…” John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural speech urged Americans to focus on acts that would light the country and all who serve it, and in turn light the world. While building your business network is a far less lofty goal than the U.S. presidency, your network is a community that deserves to be well served by you. We all know people who collect contacts like trophies and milk their network outrageously for support; never asking how they might serve the needs of others. If you keep former president Kennedy’s notable words in mind, you will remember to feed your community and create opportunities to light the world around you together.
4. Act courageously. Much of the current rhetoric about women in business and especially the paucity of women in senior executive roles suggest we don’t act courageously enough to achieve our full potential. Whereas men might consider a workplace promotion an opportunity to develop new capabilities, women will discount their experience and accomplishments as insufficient to apply. But as the saying goes, you can be sure to miss 100 per cent of the shots you never take! Some of the best opportunities for recognition come from applying for something you consider beyond your comfort zone, which could be a major accelerator to your career. You may miss out on that role but find a new opportunity opens up exclusively for you as a talented candidate with potential for growth.
5. “In a choice between nice and competent, choose competent…” (Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In). One of the hardest skills for a leader to develop is the ability to make decisions that may be unpopular. Tough choices, while right for the business, may generate conflict. While leaders can be likeable and build consensus, they must also recognize when the time for negotiation is over and a final decision is required. Some things need a ‘decide and go’ approach, while others require a ‘discuss and conclude’ approach. Effective leaders are willing to choose competence over popularity and receive recognition from their colleagues as fair and principled rather than wishy-washy.
6. Do something you believe in, and let others be part of your journey. The most notable and recognizable leaders are infectious with their passion for their work. They communicate their vision, share their goals and engage with people over how what they are doing is relevant for the world. Whether they are entrepreneurs or corporate executives, they create opportunities for others to become believers in their story. Once someone believes in you and what you are trying to accomplish, they are more likely to advocate for you and recommend you to others.
7. Ask for what you want. Pam Jeffery, president and CEO of The Jeffery Group and founder of the Women’s Executive Network (WXN) Top 100 Most Powerful Women awards believes there is nothing wrong in nominating yourself for a business award or asking a trusted contact to consider submitting a nomination on your behalf. A successful nomination requires a comprehensive profile to be put together in support of a candidate’s accomplishments and it is difficult to do this without the nominee’s input. For believers in your community, it may be just one more concrete way they can aid you in your mission, and you may be surprised at how happy they are to help.
8 Pay it forward. As women we need to do more to help each other and to recognise the strengths in those around us without prejudice. We need to act as mentors and sponsors to the younger generation. We need to recognize and understand the bias that exists when women are seen as successful and ‘difficult’ or ‘self-serving’. Recognising there is an inner tension in our community, women need to hold each other up and applaud successes rather than being negative and critical. Just as you should ask for a nomination if you believe your accomplishments are worthy, so you should offer to nominate another if they are deserving of recognition.
9. Develop 360 degree awareness. An effective leader recognizes that they can learn fresh insights from people up and down the career pipeline. Extend your awareness of the skills and capabilities of people all around you. The more you know about the strengths of others, the more you can work with them to address the most complex issues that your company or business faces today. If you network exclusively with influential powerhouses, a) you will be seen as a self-serving brown-noser and b) you will miss opportunities to be outstanding in your own right by leveraging the power of collaboration.
10. Keep your eyes on the prize. Award programs come and go but your professional integrity lasts a lifetime. Make sure that your projects are not over-engineered to match the selection criteria of an award and the accomplishments you claim are of your own making. Any metrics provided for adjudication committees must be backed up with real results. There are many ‘award winning’ advertisements and creative teams which have failed to deliver any kind of revenue growth for their clients. Ask yourself: beyond the public profile and recognition, how is what you are doing useful for the organisation, the people around you, and the community you are serving? Recognition comes in many forms, including personal satisfaction that you are doing the right things well.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Gabriella O’Rourke has been focused on transforming the growth capabilities of service organizations for almost 20 years. She is currently the business development director for one of Canada’s oldest and most distinguished law firms. Ms. O’Rourke blogs at http://thewallaceeffect.wordpress.com and she can be found on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/gorourke