You’ve had to out think your colleagues to obtain the success you currently enjoy. But the truth is, the mental acrobatics it takes to stay one step ahead is anything but enjoyable. Contorting to stay ahead is stressful and it requires you to be on constant guard.
As women and people of color, we have had to develop our intuition and interpersonal skills to excel in our professional careers. We’ve had to delve into and understand the politics of our organizations. We’ve had to know which partner, managing director, or VP cares about which issue. We’ve had to be aware of all of the interactions in each meeting so we stay one step ahead, and dissect and debrief afterward.
This is how you’ve compensated for the isolation you experience when you are one of the few or the “only” in your respective field. Rarely does someone take your hand and guide you through a culture. And even more rare is having someone who parts the waters on your behalf.
To be successful, you’ve had to out think, out maneuver, and out strategize the people around you.
While being constantly on their game has helped them to a point, most of my clients come to me because they are out of chess moves. They aren’t sure how to get to the next or most senior level in their careers. Whether it is entering the C-Suite or making partner, they know they have to develop a different strategy to continue to ascend.
Focus on what you want
When you start out in your career, your value is derived from what you can do for other people in the organization. In the beginning, you don’t have a direct impact on the bottom line, so you earn credibility by positioning yourself as an indispensable member of the group, department, and/or manager.
To become indispensable, you focus on what other people want. You study what motivates them and you make it your practice to answer the questions they haven’t yet asked. It is a valuable skill that gives you a lot of traction early on in your career.
However, as you take on more responsibility, you must learn to shift your focus to what you want.
The problem is, most of us don’t.
To start, you have to consider the goals and ideas that inspire you, ones that are independent of what other people think. What do you need and want to accomplish? When you only consider others’ aspirations, you limit yourself to focusing on and executing their ideas.
When you hone in on what you want and envision for yourself and your career, your creativity and innovation begin to emerge. When you stop being an expert at execution and begin to affect how things get done in the organization, you can bring in new clients, innovative technologies, new relationships, and fresh ideas that expand the organization. You can begin to affect the bottom line, which gets everyone’s attention.
Manipulation and the exchange of energy
Be careful when you use strategy to get people to help you. When you try to get what you want from other people’s power, you are at risk of manipulating them to think more favorably of you. Sure, there might be something in it for them, but they have to invest their energy to support, reward, and acknowledge you.
The resulting energy dynamic means they constantly expend energy on your behalf and you accept it. This can make you appear to be subordinate to them. Again, this is acceptable in the beginning of your career. After all, investing energy into an up-and-coming team member is what mentorship and sponsorship is all about.
However, if you don’t eventually change the dynamic and equalize the energy exchange in your dealings with upper management they will never see you as an equal. They will believe you’re not quite ready, and that you always need assistance to get what you want.
The shift is so subtle that my clients often over look the impact.
You must begin to see yourself as a direct influencer, rather than someone who works all the levers behind the scenes to get what she wants.
Become aware of your own power
This tendency to leverage other people’s power blocks you from taking inventory of your own power. You have to begin to tell people how you affect any given situation and you must own the impact you make.
To gain credibility, we often confer our power to someone else to help them look good. You do it to curry favor and good positioning. Over the years, you stop realizing your own impact. You start to blend into the group, and use the terms “we and us”, instead of “I and me.”
When you recognize the value you bring to an organization, you can exercise the power that the value gives you. Until then, you are subject to everyone else’s perception of your value.
If you feel stuck in your career, start observing the power dynamics in the relationships you have with colleagues, managers, and the leaders of your organization. Then begin to shift the dynamic by leveraging your strengths and resources. Make sure that you give as much energy as you take.