If you’ve been trying to stand out and make an impact at work this year, it’s easy to look at this period as “lost time” when it comes to your career.

Standing out in the eyes of senior management is hard enough in the best of times, but when you’re working from home, getting in front of senior decision-makers feels harder than ever. And with budgets and headcount under pressure, maybe you’re not in a job right now.

But if you think this time is a write-off for advancing in your career, it’s time to re-think.

What you do during this time is absolutely critical to your career.

What You Do Right Now Matters

In times like these, the tendency is to react in one of three ways:

  • Sit back and wait for things to get back to normal (spoiler alert: things won’t go back to exactly the way they were!)
  • Become paralyzed by fear and unable to do anything productive
  • Get mired in nonstop daily activity and miss the bigger picture

The problem with these reactions is they leave you standing still. And standing still while the world moves ahead can leave you out of position for opportunities from a changing environment and unprepared for the “new normal” that emerges.

None of this will help you stand out in a good way.

Leaders Emerge in Times of Change

In times of rapid change, your leadership abilities are what help you stand out and shine.

Take my client Evan (not his real name), who leads a unit of 500 people. When we met in March, he observed that, “in this environment, leaders emerge… you see who’s really up for this type of a challenge.”

Evan’s observations and impressions were formed from his daily Zoom video meetings with direct reports, with broader team members, and in virtual “town hall” meetings. Unlike in-person meetings, he could see everyone at the same time on video. And there were more opportunities to hear from people in terms of the questions they asked and the suggestions they made.

So even in a virtual work environment, the way you’re reacting to the challenges of the current situation and how you’re conducting yourself are still very much visible.

So be sure to engage when you’re on these calls. And if you’re not in touch with people on the broader team or find yourself waiting for others to reach out to you, you could be missing the opportunity to stand out by not showing up at all.

Three Ways to Stand Out and Lead

To make the most of the current situation, there are three areas in which you can stand out and show you can lead.

Lead Your Self

No matter where you sit in the organization’s hierarchy, you can always demonstrate leadership when it comes to yourself.

This starts with the way you take charge of your mindset and attitude. Remember, your mindset affects your behavior which affects your results.

The most effective leaders adopt a growth mindset – one where you see the opportunities in the situation – instead of a fixed mindset, which leads to a tendency to give up in the face of challenges or frustrations.

And having a growth mindset leads to choosing productive ways to spend your time, like investing in yourself or making time to think strategically instead of binge-watching Netflix.

Be the person who stands out as having your mental game together so you can think beyond the current situation while also attending to what’s needed in the here and now.

Lead Others

Whether you’re the most junior person in the (virtual) room or the most senior, you have a chance to show leadership when it comes to your interactions with other people.

It’s all about bringing positive energy to whatever group you’re in. And if you can lead yourself, you’ll be better at leading others too by looking for the opportunity rather than the odds that are stacked against you. Helping others move forward, not dragging them down. Encouraging action instead of giving up.

As a CEO I know puts it, in times like these it’s essential to “realize that fate, until you’re dead, is in your own hands.”

In other words, it helps to have a healthy dose of optimism and resourcefulness when it comes to leading others effectively. Just like the popular TV character MacGyver, who regularly got out of dire situations with the equivalent of scissors, tape and string.

In this environment, leading others is also about finding the balance between bringing the human element to the situation and being able to engage in clear thinking and solid decision-making.

Or in Evan’s words, the people who surprised him with their leadership were able to be “empathetic yet objective”.

Lead in the Business

Showing leadership when it comes to the business means keeping a cool head even while others around you are stuck in fear and panic.

This allows you to recognize which decisions need to be made now and which are best left until later. It also helps you make those decisions well, taking into account both immediate and longer-term considerations. This alone will set you apart from others.

You’ll also stand out by gathering input and insights from multiple perspectives. This helps you connect with others, build your network of trusted relationships and make better decisions because you’re looking at things from multiple vantage points.

You’re also more likely to come up with innovative ideas from a diverse set of inputs and get greater cooperation when it’s time to execute.

Empower Yourself

When the situation is challenging, start by managing your own emotions and state of mind. Putting your own oxygen mask on first means you’ll be better able to lead others and lead the business.

This is the time to empower yourself to be a positive force and lead from wherever you are.

We are going through an historic time. People will remember this time… and who they looked to for leadership.

What will you do to show up, stand out and lead?

Leave a comment and let me know.