I look forward to this time of year as the CRN Women of the Channel list is published. It highlights the accomplishments and capabilities of so many wonderful and talented women. It is a time to share best practices and lessons learned along our leadership journey.
Over the last 25+ years I have done a lot of reading on leadership and what it takes to be the best leader you can be. My theory, of course, was that if you worked hard and developed your leadership capabilities that this would also result in being able to climb the corporate ladder.
At one point I was able to participate in "The Leadership Challenge," a program developed by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner. My "AHA Moment" out of all the self-reflection, feedback and work, was that someone can do everything that leadership books say, but ultimately it is relationships that gets you your next job (I like to refer to it as back room…smoky room relationships).
That is a very simplified way of describing a very complex topic. Throughout my whole working life, it has been a frustration of mine that hard work, capability, and passion should be enough for you to rise to your next position. Someone should just recognize that you have what it takes and come back for you – give you your shot. I read Harvard Business Review blog a while ago that captured it perfectly - even though it applied to women I think it is valid for men too - it was called the "tiara syndrome," the belief that outstanding performance is automatically crowned with a promotion.
It is often a big challenge for emerging leaders to navigate "The Tiara Syndrome." What most are looking for is the "ticky box" list of things they had to do to get their promotion. The conversation is always tough because in order for them to get to the next level it is going to take a lot of internal soul searching, self-appreciation and quiet, calm confidence. You have to learn to know when you are doing well (and celebrate for yourself regardless if anyone else appreciates it outwardly) as well as be ok with failing, coaching yourself through the lessons learned and moving on quickly without dwelling on it. You have to be able to do the job well before you actually get it. Often times young leaders are eager to move up before others recognize they are ready. It can take a lifetime to learn all of that and some folks never get there.
While hard work and capabilities are "table stakes," the real key is having influential relationships. Knowing someone and chatting with them from time to time is not a relationship. A relationship implies some form of trust, vulnerability, connection, shared experiences and comfort level with one another.
These are rare, but critical to your success if you have them genuinely with the right people. The HBR article talks about sponsors, but I don't think that quite describes it. I think it is much more than that and if done well, can change your life and the lives of those around you. Even these relationships are no guarantee as there are other factors and people that come into play unexpectedly that can thwart your ability to rise within the organization.
I had a conversation with a female executive recently who described a situation she faced that illustrates this really well. As the story goes, a couple of years ago she had been working with a sponsor as part of her organization's career development planning. They had been working on preparing her for her next role. When the role opened, this executive went to the sponsor to inquire if she had to apply, or if she would just be presented with an offer…what was the process?
She was told, 'Well, you need to understand, a friend of another executive was unexpectedly out of work and he was being offered the position instead. We appreciate you, you'll just have to wait until next time."
She could not have anticipated this twist and no amount of hard work could have changed the outcome.
My best advice to anyone in their leadership journey is:
"Be the leader you would want to work for."
Your teams need you to be the best you can be and the experience you gain can never be taken away from you. Organizations need great leaders at all levels and we would always like to believe that the hard work and diligence pays off in promotions but sadly they often do not, or in the time frame you would like.
Having strategic relationships helps and you have to work your network constantly, purposefully, and with a genuine open heart. In the end, you may run into situations where, despite relationship and best efforts, you are overlooked for promotion. Take heart - you will be ready for your next one - whether it be inside your current organization or in a new one that can benefit from all the gifts you have to give.
Don't fall prey to the "Tiara Syndrome" and focus on being the best YOU that YOU can be!
Leadership questions of the week for YOU:

  • So many of our teammates desire "crowns" and for different reasons, how do we as leaders help them understand that there are no automatic coronations?
  • Do you agree or disagree that a "career plan" is setting the wrong expectation as teammates look to take on their next job? I believe that getting into a leadership position is not a checklist of things you do and then you get it – it takes work from the inside out. How do we do a better job of articulating that and coaching them through it? Can we?
  • How do we teach our future leaders the power of relationships, networking, and executive sponsorship to get their next positions?
  • How do we prepare our future leaders to understand the politics that are in play that can either assist them in being promoted or in navigating better through the curve balls they are thrown?

Thanks for reading and remember...YOU make a difference!
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