No matter whether you are just starting out in your career or about to retire, saying “yes” to high visibility projects should be at the top of your list of priorities. For those starting out, it indicates willingness and motivation. It helps mark you out as a future leader. For mid-career leaders, taking on high visibility projects can accelerate your progression, open up additional responsibilities and opportunities and signal your interest for executive leadership roles. And for those considering retirement, and thinking about a different kind of future, high visibility projects can provide a lasting career legacy while also acting as a beacon for younger leaders.
High visibility projects are important – particularly for women – as a HBR article by Shelley Correll and Lori Mackenzie points out, for those wanting to succeed in a corporate environment, visibility is the single most important factor:
More than technical competence, business results, or team leadership ability — these leaders agreed — visibility is the most important factor for advancement
But before you can say “yes” to a high visibility project, there is some work that needs to be done. Let’s take a look at the five steps to visible success:
- Start with a small success: We all like to make a “splash”, but taking on a large challenge also comes with risk and additional pressure. Volunteering to present at the national sales kickoff, for example, will put you squarely in the line of sight of your organization’s leadership. They will know your name, voice and the way you move on stage. They will scrutinize your presentation and speech – and this may be exactly what you want.
But leadership is not a single splash. It’s a sustained commitment over time. Start by creating the conditions for visible success, Learn about a new tool or approach and offer to lead its implementation. Run lunchtime sessions for your colleagues to skill them up. Find ways to work this new capability into the everyday workings of your teams.
- Build your innovation story: Once you have some successes to your credit, begin to connect the dots between them. Look for the story that leads from Project A to Innovation B. Craft the message that weaves business value, capability building and measurable outcomes into a believable narrative.
Leadership sometimes takes a chaotic path – but it is up to the leader to explain how the puzzle fits together. Invest in building your story of innovation, change and achievement in a way that is easy to communicate.
- Don’t wait, back yourself: Many of us feel uncomfortable promoting ourselves but this is an essential skill for the modern leader. I call this “backing yourself”. After all, if you won’t back yourself, who will?
But there is a great trick for reframing self-promotion – rather than asking for a new assignment or challenging project, identify a business problem that needs solving and pitch your solution to your leadership. Trust in your small successes, craft your story and your pitch and then give it your best shot.
- Say yes to success while facing down the risk: Earlier this year I spoke with Monica Phillips from the Powerful Conversations podcast on the topic of innovation and leadership. Around 30 minutes in, I explained how I moved from an externally facing role with global technology firm, SAP to an internally focused technology role at Nike. Now, these were two very different organizations and challenges operating in completely different industries. To say yes to this high visibility opportunity I had to believe in my past successes and back myself to continue to achieve. I had to say yes to success while facing down the risk.
- Accomplishment, loyalty and passion: There are three foundations that guide and support our lives. They underpin the successes we have at home and at work – and inform every aspect of our lives. Connecting and building on accomplishment, loyalty and passion will lead us to the door of opportunity. Once there, we only need to say “yes”.
Nina Nets It Out: Leadership comes with risks and challenges, as well as rewards. A necessary part of this is saying “yes” to high visibility projects. But how do we get there? Take these five steps to visible success.