Earlier in my career, I got a compliment from my company’s head of HR. “I can always count on you to get stuff done, Marca.” Awesome! I didn’t think he noticed my work at all since I was layered several managers below him. On a team of people who loved to brainstorm, I had a reputation as the person who could reliably knuckle down and get it done.
After the initial glow of the compliment wore off, I felt a bit cheated. I wanted to be seen as a creative problem-solver, a catalyst for change, a courageous leader. So while it was nice to be recognized, the compliment made me rethink how I showed up at work.
No one becomes an executive because they are reliable. Sure, you’ve got to follow through on important commitments. You’ve got to know your stuff. You need a solid foundation of knowledge and experience. Being reliable, or responsible, or diligent, or accountable, is important for sure — it’s what most employers would look for in an individual contributor or team lead. Being reliable may even be enough to get you a management position. But I’ve seen many women stall out on the road to more senior positions because “reliable” isn’t enough to be the best at “getting stuff done.”
At Glassdoor, we recently polled our Women’s Network and asked: “What one word do you want people to use to describe your professional self?” What came back was inspiring. The top 3 responses were: leader, passionate, and driven. What powerful words! I would definitely be looking to promote women who are leaders, who are passionate and driven.
We as women do want to show up in certain ways in our life and at work. This is the essence of your personal brand and it can dictate what people are going to remember and shape how they respond to you. However, I see women who shy away from building their brand, for reasons like “I shouldn’t have to, my work should speak for itself,” or “that’s not my style,” or “I don’t want to play those games.”
Like it or not, you have a personal brand. It comes from how you participate in meetings, your emails, your hallway interactions with others. You may as well take charge of your brand and make sure it’s serving you well!
Here are a few tips to get started with taking charge of your personal brand, and having it be more than “reliable”.
1. Check yourself.
What “one word” (or 3-5 words) describes you?
2. Ask others.
Poll the people you work with. What 3-5 words would they use to describe you when you’re at your best?
3. Focus on where you want to be.
Pick the words that align with where you want to go. Being detail-oriented may be great in your current role, but does that word help people see you in the next role? Or keep you firmly planted in your current role?
4. Be playful.
Try out some words that you aspire to. Be “bold” in a meeting if your usual style is “cautious”. Take the lead in a conversation if you’d normally volunteer to be the note-taker. If you’re normally outspoken, try on “thoughtful” by asking questions to draw others out.
5. Practice and refine.
No one gets good at anything without some trial and error. Focus on how you’d like to show up, and try out some different approaches. Check yourself and check with your trusted advisors, and refine as needed.
This International Women’s Day or sometime this week, take charge of your brand. Be known for all of the amazing talents and skills you possess. And shake off the badge of being “reliable.” You are so much more!
Marca Clark is the Director of Learning and Organizational Development at Glassdoor. She is a creative, collaborative practitioner with over 10 years experience in organizational change, talent management, culture change, internal communications, and leadership development.