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Community of Practice for Emerging Female Leaders | Stepping Up Part II

In anticipation of the first of our speaker-led events as part of our Community of Practice for Emerging Female Leaders on 21st September in the RDS, Dearbhalla Baviera of Clearbird Consulting has been examining “What Stepping Up Really Means”.  In this, the second of a three-part series, she discusses the importance of Engaging Differently.

Deirdre O’Shaughnessy, Partner, Amrop

Breaking Down What Stepping Up Really Means

“I'm being asked to 'step up' by the leadership team but I just don't know what else I can do and what exactly they want.”

“I'm working hard. I know that I'm good at what I do. I manage my team well or as well as I can do given time constraints. I'm a solid performer.  I just don’t know what to do differently to progress further to the next level in my career.

In Part I we set this scenario as context and hold it here as we look at the second pillar around engaging differently. In Part I of this series of ‘Breaking Down what Stepping Up Really Means, we considered how you can actively shift from focusing on the tactical to allow time to think and engage more strategically.

Here we look at The Second Pillar: Engaging Differently:

If you take the take on board the points raised previously - delegating more, controlling less, empowering talent and managing your time with laser-like focus, the chances are that you will feel like you have created a vacuum for yourself. A sense of but ‘what do I do now with my time?’ This might mean reframing the value you put on some other aspects of your role. I often see that active rejection of office politics. People, often women, who just want to get on with the job and ‘not get involved in all of that stuff’. But let me tell me you – it is part of the job. And if you want to shift towards leadership, to keep advancing your career, it’s time to make friends with it. It may help to re-frame office politics in these terms:-

Engage differently: Think about your presence, how you are perceived, your personal brand. Consider your language, your body language and how you bring yourself to meetings. Think about the impact that you make and how you are engaging with upward management. Are you still focused on the detail or discussing C level topics and concerns? Bring an increased conscious awareness to how you are engaging and how you are turning up for those conversations.

Manage upwards: Indeed, have you been engaging with upward management beyond your direct line manager? It may that you have been so busy manging your team and getting the job done that you have neglected the piece about really managing upwards and across. This is a critical part of shifting to leadership, to stepping up. It can be about representing your team, lobbying for your team, pushing for that idea or project that you know is of strategic importance to the business. And it’s about your career too. 

To make an impact, to step up and to engage differently, it means spending time managing upwards, influencing, building the relationships across the business that will help you to make the impact that you want. Too often, the value and importance of this is minimised or it is just avoided or not prioritised. But to be clear, this is part of leadership, this is part of engaging differently and strategically. Positively and constructively influencing decision-making is a key aspect of stepping up.

Raise Your profile: This is one part of ‘office politics’ that many clients are uncomfortable with. But it is part of your job. In an ideal world, your manager will also play a role in this. But it is not always the case. It’s not about bragging but it is about managing your personal brand. It is about identifying key stakeholders and talking about your achievements, the value that you are bringing, the impact that you are making. You can find a way to do this, that you are comfortable with, through building relationships. Many women that I work with list being ‘a people person’ as a key strength. As you advance through your career, it’s important to balance those ‘people skills’ beyond downward management, and engaging strategically with upward management.

Stretch wider: It’s about engaging more broadly across the organisation, actively beyond your function. That bigger picture thinking means joining the dots across the business. It means bringing the value of your experience across the business and getting to know the other functions and understanding what their challenges are. How can you stretch your insights, your experience to strategically impact decision making across the organisation? Think about where you can get broader experience – which may be out of your comfort zone, but to which you can bring your skills and strengths. You are more than your technical knowledge and at leadership levels, these strengths count too. A great leader brings emotional intelligence as well as functional expertise. 

Seek Out the opportunities: As you engage differently and increase your exposure, think about what you would like your next role to be. Think about the strategic programmes coming down the line that will have high visibility. Think about the role that will stretch you and give you even more exposure, allowing you to create even more impact. Visibly. And don’t wait to be asked. You may have a great manager or a great mentor who is watching out for that role for you. But in many cases, it is up to you to put yourself forward. Let it be known. Tell people about the role and stretch that you are looking for. Think about who needs to know. Take an active role in influencing your next step.

Remember, the key to actively managing the shift from functional expert and management to leadership and stepping up is owning it. Own the discussions, own how you are coming across, own your own growth. Seek out mentors and support. Seek out opportunities. Don’t wait for it to happen. Don’t wait for the recognition to come because you deserve it and are working hard. Take the reins on your own career and navigate forward with purpose.

In Part III of this series, we will look at the Third Pillar: Leading From the Front.

Dearbhalla Baviera, founder of Clearbird Coaching and Consulting is an Executive Coach, Speaker and Consultant who focuses on Feeding the Female Leadership Pipeline.