Have you ever worked for someone who wasn’t well-respected? They’re in a management position but they aren’t regarded well by their manager or their peers? Have you ever wondered how this affects you? When you work for someone whom everyone respects, it’s normal to feel safe, secure, and with the right skills–to have a sense of confidence in climbing the corporate ladder. But what if no one gives your manager a second thought, or worse, what if that person falls out of favor in the eyes of higher-ups? Essentially, what does it mean when a shadow has been cast on you because your manager’s brand has gone south? And more importantly, what can you do about it?
First and foremost, it goes without saying–always do your job to the best of your abilities. Regardless of what’s happening with you, your manager, or your company, always maintain a strong work ethic and don’t just do your job–do your job well. Not only does this instill a sense of personal pride and help you get through the day knowing you’ve done the best you can do, it’s also a CYA measure so no one can come back and say you were slacking. Now, trust me, I know this can be difficult when you’re watching those around you being promoted, assigned to special projects, and getting recognized by the higher-ups–all while you sit in a drab, windowless cube performing job functions you could do in your sleep. But doing your best work is a must, that’s the prerequisite and constant to everything else.
Set yourself apart from your manager. Diplomatically, make your manager aware of what your interests are, or ask about other areas of the firm where you could ‘shadow’ someone to gain exposure and build your skill set. Any decent manager is going to want their team members to thrive and grow, so from a professional development standpoint–they should support this. It also provides you with the opportunity to talk to other people without offending or upsetting your manager. Besides, if you look good, they look good. But when you look good, you look good.
Find a well-respected mentor, whether it’s formally or informally. Quite often, firms have formal mentoring programs, and if yours does and you can get in it, do it. However, most of the time it’s not that easy–especially if you’re in the aforementioned ‘no one respects my manager’ group. So appoint one for yourself. If there is someone whom you respect and admire–ask if they would be willing to work with you. Most anyone can find 30-minutes every other month for coffee, or a 1-hour block for lunch every quarter. Present challenges to them and ask advice, find out how they’ve navigated their career both inside and outside the company, and take advantage of what they’ve learned along the way and use their experiences for your good.
Network. I know, everyone says network, network, network; but it’s important and it’s true. People shift jobs and firms all the time and you never know where someone is going to land and they just might be your ticket when it’s time for you to transition. Coffee, lunch, information gathering sessions, and even happy hours are ideal when you know a department or individual you want to get in front of. And make sure you’re doing this not only inside your own department, but outside of it too. Externally: Conferences and seminars are prime opportunities to expand your personal and professional network and they don’t have to be approached as having to make a forced connection. Compliment someone on a piece of jewelry or article of clothing. Ask a question about one of the speakers. Share an arbitrary insight you’ve learned from one of the conference sessions. Or, comment on the facility, weather, or the food. Networking is really no more than striking up a conversation with someone you don’t know, yet. Just make sure you’re open to being approached and not hiding under a potted plant waiting for the event to end. (Yes, I’ve seen this happen.)
Build your portfolio. You may be thinking that you’re not an artist, writer, or creative type–don’t be so literal, it doesn’t have to be a tangible portfolio. Maybe you’re a runner–then run. Do races for causes (also a great opportunity to network). Volunteer for your local animal shelter. Embrace your interests outside of work. Doing things that bring you personal satisfaction is not only a great way to stay fulfilled, it shows companies that you’re not one-dimensional. Remember all that talk about being well-rounded? Well it’s true. In this day and age, people have to work harder than ever to differentiate themselves from the crowd. Not everyone can do a 5k, draw, create a website, write a children’s book, whatever. Embrace your talents and let people know about them at the proverbial water cooler when they ask what you did over the weekend. Share that you read your latest short story to the kids at the library over the weekend. Things like that get around, in a good way.
Like anything worth having and keeping, building your personal brand takes dedication and work, but in the end it’s very rewarding. Not only will you feel good about your career, you’ll feel good about yourself. Plus, the intangible perks that arise are invaluable, like: you find out about an awesome babysitting service, a well-kept secret boutique that always has designer handbags on sale, where to get cheap tickets for the best seats to sporting events, or an awesome local band to go see on a Sat. night. At the end of the day, your career is your responsibility, manage it well.