Three Breakout Strategies for the Seriously Ambitious

By WomenAdvancing Archives
Cover image for  article: Three Breakout Strategies for the Seriously Ambitious

Navigating a career path to leadership in a disruptive business world has its own challenges. How does an ambitious person break out of a highly competitive pack and keep moving up?

I pried some valuable insight from Dorie Clark, the author of a fantastic book called Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It. As a confidant to some of the most powerful executives in business today, Dorie offered these three strategies to stand out at work, get promoted and keep your career moving upward in a constantly changing business.

  1. “Power map” your organization. Who are the decision makers, who approves initiatives and programs and of most importance to whom do they listen? This is the first step to understanding how one gets promoted in your organization. Don’t just assume there’s a tap on the shoulder and you become an anointed one. It's unlikely your boss can decide unilaterally to promote you. And even if your boss is your champion, you’ll need political support within the organization so you’re not stymied. Sometimes there is a committee and/or a hierarchy who can promote or block you -- understand who influences these decision makers and build allies for your cause. Study your power map, get to know the leadership, help them understand what you do and keep them abreast of your contributions.
  2. Gain prominence outside the organization to gain prominence inside. Often the greatest challenge is to rise in an organization where you might be taken for granted. However, you can disproportionally advance your career rapidly by developing your external repute with what Dorie calls the “advanced Jedi promotion tactic.” Take a leadership role in a professional organization; speak at a conference; lead a charitable campaign that’s visible in the community; offer to write an article for an industry publication.  “You’d be surprised how many professional organizations are hungry for members who will offer to take on leadership roles,” says Dorie. “Get yourself on an executive committee and rub elbows with the leaders, even if you’re just the secretary taking the minutes of the meeting.” Look for roles that give you unlimited license to contact people. And if that’s too much of a time commitment for you, Dorie suggests simply forming a meet-up group that organizes cocktails after work for young professionals.  “The idea is to establish that you’re a leader, you’re an organizer, you’re a convener. When your company leadership starts to hear your name outside of the office, they’ll recognize you’re something special.”
  3. Start sharing your ideas publicly. Develop your professional voice and make sure it’s heard. The leadership of your company will only trust you with a promotion once they feel like they know how you think. In today’s business environment, it is too risky to assume that other people are intelligent, creative or capable of innovative thinking, so take the guesswork out of the equation and make a concerted effort to bring your ideas into the world. Start blogging on LinkedIn or on your company’s internal website, and make it a point to speak up more in meetings. Manifest your ideas so your leadership will note your ability and realize you are worthy of additional responsibility.  “It’s also important to network internally -- volunteer proactively for cross-departmental initiatives,” Dorie adds. “You’ll be exposed to more ideas, gain a broader perspective and generate more opportunities to make yourself more indispensable to more people.”

So what happens if you’re rocking these three strategies and still can’t get where you want to be? Dorie says to ask for a promotion. “If you don’t ask, you almost certainly won’t get one, but be judicious and prepared -- you can’t ask precipitously.”  Make a compelling argument to warrant the request. “If you don't have the capital to be promoted, you’ll set yourself back,” she explains. “Be ready to quantify your request.  Keep track of the results of your efforts: If you launched a product successfully, if you’ve led a team that exceeded goal, you are justified to seek rewards in proportion to the benefits you’re delivering. If you're really good, nine out of 10 times it will be appreciated.”

If there is no mobility at your company because upper positions are locked in have a frank discussion with your boss and be open to other ways of collaborating to reach mutual goals. “Brainstorm other alternatives: Can you get more money with the same title?  Can you take on a new project that will make you more marketable? Could the firm pay for your master’s degree?”

Finally, Dorie offers this: “If your talents are not being recognized and you’ve exhausted all options, it might be time to move on.”

Great advice, but before you do that, there are a lot more ideas for getting ahead in your career in Dorie’s Stand Out Workbook, which you can download for free here.

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