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Fighting pigeonholes of the past

April 12, 2013

By Sarah Le Roy

Have you ever been driving along in your car, talking on your mobile phone and accidentally hit the mute button? You know the feeling. You’re talking away, saying very important things, but the person on the other end of the phone can’t hear a thing.

Well, the same thing can happen to you in a team, division, or organization. If you don’t speak your own truth and communicate in a thoughtful, strategic way, you’ll never really be heard, and it will be impossible to perform to your optimum ability.

The muted phone illustration came to me as I was having dinner with a client the other evening and the topic of her “executive brand” within her organization came up. Of course, she didn’t say “my brand could use some work.” But since she’s literally “grown up” at her company, she did say, “I don’t think people really see me or hear me as I am today.”

Your “executive brand” is what the public or the organization perceives to be true about you. It can be good or bad, or weak or strong, etc., and it’s something you have to guard fiercely and nurture attentively.

Now, there are clear benefits to organizational longevity, but there are also drawbacks, and over dinner, she was expressing her frustration at encountering one of the pitfalls—being seen by her manager only as she “used to be” instead of the highly competent, extremely intelligent professional that she is today.

This is hardly a rare case, and this kind of pigeonholing happens because in some ways, an organization can be like a family. And we all know that family members don’t always see us as we are. For instance, I am now, and will forever be, 12-years-old in my brothers eyes. And just as it is with my brothers (and any family), you have to “turn up the volume” to ensure you’re getting the proper message across.

But “turning up the volume” has nothing to do with decibels. It’s really about using all the skills you have at your disposal and recognizing that if you want to change the way you’re perceived, especially in an environment where you have a long history, you’ve got to make sure that people really hear what you are saying. You’ve got to be proactive and turn up the volume in all of your communication so that everyone in your organization isn’t listening through the barrier of history.

What does this mean for those of you reading this who think…”Gee, that sounds like me?” Here’s the strategy. Start with yourself first. What do you think your brand is and what do you want it to be? Go through your performance reviews and look for clues. Language like “…needs to be more commercial or needs to speak up more…” are excellent indicators that some work needs to be done.

Then, create a blueprint for getting from where you are now to where you want to be in the future. Get as grandiose or as straightforward as you like—this is after all, about you. What actions can you take today and what are the strategies you need to use to reach your target? Do you need to simply update your wardrobe or do you need to take a seminar on the basics of finance, or public speaking, or being a better communicator? The key is to remove any obstacles to getting your message out. Perception is reality.

So, all of you out there with a message (and we all have a message), be bold, turn off the mute button and turn up the volume so that you can stand up and be heard.

What pigeonholes from the past are you fighting against?


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