Recently, I spoke at a women’s event at a global investment bank on how to successfully navigate the path to promotion. At the end of my talk, I was asked the following question:
“At some point, more women will be given opportunities to lead businesses at the firm. What should we be doing to prepare for the limelight?”
What an awesome question. It’s not one I had been asked before.
At some point in your career, you are going to have that big break – that opportunity to step up and step into your full potential personally and professionally.
When that time comes, you’ll want to be ready.
While there are probably 100 things you could do to prepare, it’s about focusing on the small handful of things that will make the biggest difference.
In my view, there are three.
Build your support system
The first thing to do is start to build your support system. This is especially important if you’re being put in a pressure situation where people are watching to see whether you’ll succeed or fail.
It’s like being on the flying trapeze with spectators watching and waiting, and wondering if you’ll make it safely to the other side. But no one’s holding a net to catch you if you fall. So, you have to create your own safety net.
The size of your support system is less important than the dependability of it. So don’t worry if you start small. Just make sure it’s robust. Build relationships with people you can trust both externally, such as friends and family, and internally, like your mentors, sponsor and a few close colleagues.
You’ll need these trusted advisors and supporters to help you get around obstacles and prop you up in the difficult moments, so you can get back to work the next day and make forward progress.
For me, it began with my husband, sister and parents. Then my office-mate Liz, my fellow analyst Ross, and my former boss, Madeleine. We’re still friends to this day.
So identify who you can count on and for what kind of support. You’ll need friends in both high and low places. And just like in show business, it’s often the people who were your friends before you became “rich and famous” whose motives you can trust.
Close your skills gaps
When you take on a new role, there’s likely to be new strengths and skills that you’ll need to bring to bear. Figure out which one or two are the most important for you to develop yourself and start working on them.
For me, it was learning to manage people. I was a micromanager of the worst kind, so I knew I would need to start practicing how to delegate. Even in the kitchen, I insisted on cooking despite my 14-hour a day job. It was crazy. I had to learn to let go because I would never succeed if I tried to do an even bigger job on my own.
It’s useful to figure out your Achilles Heel before you get to the next level up in intensity and scrutiny.
What gaps do you need to fill? And how can you start building those new muscles now?
Get clear on who you are
When you’re thrust into the limelight, it’s easy to get buffeted around by the pressures and headwinds all around you.
At those times, you’ll appreciate knowing who you are and what you stand for. So this is a great time to get clear on your values.
What’s “okay” and not “okay” in your book?
Where do you draw the line on deciding which risks to take and what behavior to tolerate?
How will you handle people who disagree?
How do you want to exercise your voice in speaking up for your beliefs?
The more senior you become, the more you will be tested. This is where your self-confidence and values need to be your bedrock and compass. People will push you, sometimes just to see how far you can be pushed.
My values came from the stories my parents told me about my ancestors. There was the story of my grandfather who never even took a paper clip from his office because it belonged to the university (he was the President). And my great grandfather who was assassinated because he convicted the criminals who represented the puppet government who were running China at the time (he was a judge).
Having the value of “doing the right thing” ingrained into us helped me hold my ground and navigate some tricky situations.
When you have clarity on who you are and what you believe in, the added benefit is self-confidence. And that’s helpful to every career.
Will you be ready?
It’s up to you to make sure you’re ready when that next big opportunity appears. And that means doing the work to prepare yourself.
Whether it’s building your support system, closing your skills gaps, getting clear on who you are, or something else, the time you spend investing in your capabilities is never wasted.
And now, it’s time to go ahead and invest in yourself.
Which of these areas would most move the needle for you as you prepare for the limelight?
Leave a comment and let me know.