Many years ago, I was coaching a friend, a senior professional in an IT multinational, pro bono.
I was meeting Rakesh (name changed) after a long time in his office. I always knew him as reticent but when I met him after several years, he came across to me as an extremely shy person.
Actually, he had approached me with a concern that, lately, his contributions were not being acknowledged at his workplace. In his view, this was impacting his career prospects. He had a long career ahead of him and he wanted to know what he needed to do.
We got talking.
His title was Senior Manager. I began asking him about how, in his view, his Brand was being perceived in the ecosystem, more specifically among his stakeholders and customers.
We live based on our beliefs
As he got talking, I spotted a subtext. In a lot of his words and actions at his workplace, he seemed to believe that ‘my work should speak for itself’. He believed that those who publicize themselves fitted the proverb, ’empty vessels make the most noise’. This subtext came up several times during the conversation.
This subtext was also manifesting in the way he spoke about his work – in a low tone. At work, he seemed to push his team into the limelight but he stayed in the shadows. He avoided important overseas visits citing ‘personal reasons’ and gave opportunities to his people. When important overseas visitors were in town, he would have one of his team members play the host. Even in the way he dressed, the subtext showed. I was in his office in the middle of the week. He sported a stubble, wore a dull shirt over frayed jeans. He wore a pair of tired and discolored sports shoes.
I had asked him to make a presentation to me on his favorite topic. He had picked a slightly technical topic for the presentation. We were in the large boardroom where he was presenting to me.
He seemed to be an expert on content but he was a very reluctant presenter – his body language was tentative and his voice quivering. Clutching the back of a chair for support, he seemed to hate standing there. I sensed that he wanted the presentation to end quickly. When I asked him a couple of questions, I could sense from his body language that he just wanted to vaporize.
Incidentally, one of the areas of improvement that he had received as feedback over the years was around enhancing his visibility.
Later, as we settled down, I asked him a fairly straightforward question: Was he passing on all the ‘visibility’ opportunities to his team to develop them or because he hated being under the arc light? He kept looking at me without speaking a word. His eyes said it all. It was clear. He hated ‘visibility’.
In my view, this could be the principal issue why his Brand was suffering. It was very likely that the erosion of his Brand was having a consequence on his career.
Performing under the arc light
As we climb the career ladder, the arc light is bound to fall upon us. All of us are comfortable with this light to varying degrees. At one end of the spectrum, there are people who hog the lights while on the other end, there are people like Rakesh. Many of us are located somewhere in between.
As we rise to senior levels, marketing oneself becomes an important competency. Specifically, some roles demand performance under the arc light. Like in Rakesh’s case, the personal preference of the Role Holder (in this case, to shun visibility) could pose a risk to the Role and to the organization.
Sometimes in our career, our role changes dramatically. The organization expects us to blend into the new role effortlessly. Like an actor who was typecast to play only mythological characters on screen needs to step out of his comfort zone while playing a city slicker’s role, we are also expected to make significant changes to our profile. Some succeed and some don’t.
However, we have to remember that whatever may be our choice, there are consequences.
In the case of Rakesh, being publicity-shy was having an adverse impact on his career.
Further Reading>>>>Click here to read my post on the critical distinction between Role Understanding & Role Acceptance and how it can impact our career.
Do you need help with your Brand? Currently, I am coaching a senior leader in building his Brand. I am working with him on areas such as leveraging the awesome power of LinkedIn and helping him with Thought Leadership articles in his areas of expertise. When it comes to building your Brand, the sooner the better.
You can reach out to me at [email protected]