The American Cancer Society hosted a wonderful event in Chicago to launch their new Leadership Circle on May 22. The Tiffany store on Michigan Avenue provided a glittering setting for a gathering of Chicago’s women leaders. The participants enjoyed champagne, hors d’oeuvres, and good conversation, as at many other fundraising initiatives.
But this event was set apart by two elements. First, we heard from two women scientists who spoke with passion and authority about the importance of the ACS’s new initiative to increase screening rates for colorectal cancer in Illinois. Let’s face it – colorectal cancer is not a heart-warming subject. But the two scientists effectively communicated the importance and the urgency of the project.
Second, there was absolutely no fund-raising at this event – no envelopes passed, no auction, no pledge cards. The only “ask” was for our contact information. Of course, I have no doubt that the ACS will follow up with requests for substantial financial support, as they should. But it was refreshing to walk away without feeling I had been shaken down.
Well done, ACS!
Doing great work is fundamental to your career success. But it’s not always enough. It is equally important to be on your boss’s radar. Leadership consultants emphasize the importance of finding “champions,” powerful leaders in your company who will speak up on your behalf and recommend you for important projects and promotions. But your boss can’t be your champion if he or she doesn’t know what you are doing.
Here’s the challenge – there are two different kinds of radar. I call them visibility and maintenance. Visibility means giving your boss to have a clear line of sight to your achievements and contributions. Maintenance is about being the center of office drama and conflict. Here’s what the two dimensions look like:
Low visibility/Low maintenance = Invisible. You may be doing good work and you’re not causing problems, but your boss is unlikely to see you as a candidate for special attention.
Low visibility/High maintenance = Pain in the neck. Your boss only hears about you when you are stirring up trouble. This is a fast road to stagnation at best and job loss at worst.
High visibility/High maintenance = Prima donna. You are doing great work and your boss knows it. But you are also the center of drama and conflict in the office. Depending on your boss’s priorities, he may put up with the drama because of the contributions you are making, or he may decide that all the trouble you create isn’t worth it.
High visibility/Low maintenance = Star. This is the magic formula. When your boss sees you coming, she knows it’s going to be good news. You are making her life easier, not more complicated.
Aim for High Visibility/Low Maintenance in your relationship with your boss. Built on the foundation of outstanding work, it’s the springboard to success.
Diversity in business leadership is a no-brainer. Not only is it the right thing to do, it is also smart, hard-headed business thinking. Companies with diverse leadership teams make more money. So why is it so hard to promote women, people of color, and other diverse people into senior leadership roles? A sobering recent experience helped me understand this on a personal level.
I was organizing a panel of speakers for a dinner as part of the Power Networking for Women event in Chicago. I wanted high-powered speakers, and I put together a list of people I knew would be great panelists. Then I read the fine print. The organizer of the event, Deirdre Joy Smith, has a powerful commitment to promoting diversity, and she required that at least one panelist be a woman of color and at least one be under 35. I looked back at my list – and every single person was a middle-aged white woman.
That’s what happens when you rely on your network of comfortable relationships – you come up with people like yourself. And I must admit I felt a momentary flash of irritation. The women on my list were terrific speakers. Where was I going to find top quality presenters who met Deirdre’s criteria?
It took me about three minutes to figure it out. I am a mentor for a group of young executives through The Executives’ Club of Chicago. Everyone in the group is under 40, and several of them are young women of color. Duh! There was my talent pool to draw from. Within a couple of days I had invited Nashunda Bolden, a Business Solutions Manager for CRS Group who is an experienced writer and presenter. Nashunda did a great job at the dinner and provided a unique perspective that would not have been available if the panel had been a more homogeneous group.
I know that when you look in the same old places, you will find the same old people. But that didn’t stop me from falling into the trap myself. Without a systemic requirement that I put together a diverse group, I wouldn’t have.