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Are You Seen as Strategic Enough to Lead Others?

Are You Seen as Strategic Enough to Lead Others?

For many women, our desire to please, combined with a strong need to prove our value, serves us well in the early years of our careers. Many of us quickly develop a reputation for excellence and reliability. This reinforces our natural tendencies to work hard and produce high-quality results.

As we progress, however, the skills and activities needed to advance our careers change. We may continue to be appreciated for the work we produce, but it won’t propel us to higher levels of leadership. Unfortunately, transitioning away from the work that has put us on the map is not easy for many women.

I speak regularly with women who have established themselves as subject matter experts. Their confidence comes from their in-depth expertise in specialized areas, as well as their ability to consistently share that expertise with others. They worry that, without a deep level of engagement in the work itself, they will lose credibility and undermine their own value.

Similarly, I speak with women who consistently volunteer their time on support activities. They stay late to finalize the group presentation to ensure it’s error-free, or they manage the meeting logistics to ensure it runs smoothly.

None of these activities, from remaining in the weeds of their work activity to serving as the team editor, are wrong. These are activities that need to be done and there is value to doing them. But if you want to make the shift to a higher-level, more strategic leadership role, you need to be more purposeful about how you’re spending your time.

Many of the women I support report that they are not perceived as sufficiently strategic. They’re recognized for their expertise, but they aren’t seen as visionary or ready to lead a team. How do they make that critical shift from reliable doer to inspiring leader?

A critical step in changing perceptions is to evaluate how you’re showing up to those around you. Here are three places to start.

How are you communicating your expertise?

When you provide updates at meetings, do you take a deep dive into your daily work activity? Or, do you summarize it to best meet the needs and interests of your audience?

Having subject matter expertise is valuable, but it’s only relevant to others to the extent that it connects to the bigger picture. How does your work relate to larger organizational goals? How does your work directly impact the work of those around you?

Each time you discuss your work, translate it into language that others can meaningfully comprehend and apply to their own work. Instead of trying to prove that you’ve mastered the topic by sharing all of the details, ask others what they care about and share accordingly.

Your ability to communicate at a strategic level is critical to your ability to persuade others that you’re ready for higher levels of leadership.

[Related: Self-Promotion is Not Self-Serving; It's a Service to Others]

Where are you adding the greatest value?

The disease to please is an epidemic among women. Add to that the tendency toward perfectionism and you’ve got a lethal combination.

While you’re meticulously polishing and re-polishing your work so that your boss is happy with the finished product, your male peers are building relationships and focusing on higher-level activity. Is it nice to have a “perfect” presentation or report? Sure. Does that activity buy you advancement opportunities? It’s unlikely.

Think about where you’re spending your time. If you’re expending precious energy on making your team happy, or perfecting work that is good enough, you’re missing important opportunities to showcase strategic value.

Instead of keeping your head down and diligently performing your role, step away from your desk (virtually or live) and meaningfully connect with those around you. That’s where the real credit lies.

[Related: What Do You Do Brilliantly?]

What does your body language say about you?

These days, many of us wear our busy-ness as a badge of honor. It feels good to be busy because it means that we’re in high demand. But how is that influencing your presence? There is a difference between being busy and strategic.

If you’re chronically late to meetings because you’re running from one meeting to another, or you’re showing up looking harried because your to-do list is a mile long, you’re not going to inspire confidence in others that you’re ready to take on higher-level responsibilities.

If you’re consistently talking about how much you have to do, don’t expect anyone to see you as well positioned for the next step. Watch your body language and, if you’re spending time on low-value tasks, delegate or defer them so that you can focus on more strategic activity.

It is possible to re-brand yourself as more strategic if you’re purposeful in your efforts. Start with paying attention to how you show up.

[Related: Feeling Invisible At Work? Three Ways To Show Up And Get Noticed]


Kim Meninger is an executive coach and consultant who specializes in women’s leadership. She is passionate about helping women in traditionally male-dominated fields to build their confidence, visibility, and influence.

Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.


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