A common misconception is if you’re doing your job well and going above and beyond expectations, you’ll be in great shape for career advancement.

But having done my share of putting my head down, working hard and doing excellent work yet still not getting tapped for the best opportunities, I know firsthand that it’s not enough.

To be seen as ready for the next level, it takes something different. You need to find ways to stand out as a leader and as someone with the capacity to make the place tangibly better. People need to see a spark of some kind in you.

So how do you stand out in a crowded field?

One way to stand out and show you have that spark is to be a “Rainmaker” and not only a “Caretaker”. 

As a high achiever, you already know how to be an excellent Caretaker. It’s what’s gotten you to where you are. When you’re in Caretaker mode, you’re doing everything that’s asked or required to a high level of excellence. You're a person who can be relied on to get things done properly and on time.

Being a Caretaker mode is important and organizations need people to do great work. It’s normal to spend time in this mode.

On the other hand, a Rainmaker is someone who makes things happen that can be seen, heard and felt in the organization. For example, breaking into a new market niche if you’re in sales or innovating a new process that saves the company millions of dollars if you’re in technology.

Caretakers and Rainmakers are valuable to an organization, and you’re going to be a mix of both. But to advance to senior leadership positions, you’ll need to be conscious of spending enough time being a Rainmaker.

Develop the skills to get recognized, promoted and paid more

Focusing exclusively on being a Caretaker will hold you back

The Caretaker mode leads managers to see you as a dependable worker and a “safe pair of hands” they can rely on. But “dependable” and “safe pair of hands” aren’t usually the stuff that senior executives and top leaders are made of.

I’ve even seen some cases where “safe pair of hands” can be code for “totally trusted to do their current role, but not someone we can expect much more from”.

If your aspiration is to advance to a senior leadership role, then you need to show you can make it “rain”. That is, to create opportunities or ways of working that help the organization grow into the future. And in doing so, it helps you grow into the future too.

Rainmakers expand the size of the pie for the organization, whether that’s new opportunities, greater efficiencies or improving whatever metric is important to future success.

If Caretaker mode is being the workhorse that pulls the cart up the hill, Rainmaker mode is being the racehorse who brings in the big results and the positive ripple effects that come along with winning.

You can be a Rainmaker from just about any job

While the term originated with the legal profession where the big fee generating partners were called Rainmakers, you don’t have to be in a revenue generating role to be a Rainmaker.

Take my friend Wendy, for example. She was a lawyer in the subsidiary of a Fortune 100 company and her job was to settle lawsuits brought by customers. It was costly to settle these cases and damaging to the company’s reputation. When the number of lawsuits started rising, she became curious about what was driving that trend.

She started talking to her counterparts in the business unit and discovered that there were early warning signs that a customer was likely to sue the company. She got her boss on board and then worked with colleagues to create a system to flag those accounts and intervene before the issue became a lawsuit. This “Early Warning System” saved millions of dollars for her unit that year.

This caught the attention of top management and Wendy was asked to roll out the Early Warning System to the other 10 subsidiaries, generating even more savings for the company while reducing the reputation risk. Wendy won the CEO’s Innovation of the Year award that year and was promoted to head of litigation 18 months later.

It takes curiosity, connection and open-mindedness

Just as Wendy was curious about a problem that seemed to be growing in her unit, you could notice challenges or opportunities in your area and ask yourself why this is happening. It’s also a great opportunity to connect with colleagues and stakeholders on a substantive business topic. So think about who you could talk to and brainstorm with.

And if you’re open to new ways of doing things, you’re more likely to see a path forward that improves the results for the organization and establishes you as a Rainmaker.

Career Mastery has been a game-changer for me. Wonderful, actionable advice that helps me be better than the day before.”

Carol Vincent

But what if you don’t have time to think about anything beyond your To-Do list?

Being buried in your task list is a prime example of Caretaker behavior, and it’s not going to get you where you aspire to be in your career. So if you’re “too busy”, it’s time to step back and make sure you’re investing your time and energy in the right ways.

It also doesn’t need to take a lot of extra effort on your part to follow through on Rainmaker ideas. It’s about bringing together allies and forming a coalition. Anything significant that can be seen, heard and felt in the organization will need to be done by more than just one person, even if that person is as talented as you are.

Remember, you’re standing out as a leader, not as an individual performing heroics single-handedly.

Just remember to be patient

It may take time to shift your thinking and attention toward Rainmaker activities because being a Rainmaker requires a different way of thinking from being a Caretaker. It’s about looking for ways to improve the system and generate different results for the organization. It’s not like a task on your to-do list that you can cross off each day.

Rainmaker ideas may come to you when you’re doing something mundane. Or they could occur to you when you notice a pattern of activity. And you need to be present enough to notice those patterns and connect the dots to a strategic issue that matters for your unit. Sometimes you have to sit with ideas for a while or talk to others before they become clear.

Once you have an idea, you’ll need patience to move it forward. Fundamental shifts in systems, processes or client results take time to unfold. Big impacts aren’t made overnight or even over a quarter. It’s about taking regular small steps over time with and through others. And the most important thing is to get started.

How can you stand out as a Rainmaker?

If you want to be more visible and valued in your organization, you owe it to yourself to shift some of your time and energy away from being a Caretaker toward becoming seen as a Rainmaker.

As you go through your day, stay present and hold these questions in the back of your mind: What could you save the organization from? What good things could you create much more of for your unit?

So, how could you be a rainmaker in your role?

Leave a comment and let me know.