When You’re Not in the Room

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Rosann Santos, John Jay College of Criminal Justice

March 25, 2019

Promotions are not just functions of ability, values or the numbers you hit, but also rest critically on how you are perceived.  –Dr. Sylvia Ann Hewlett

What are people saying about you when you’re not in the room?

Unless your supervisor is sharing things like this with you, then you probably don’t know. Being snubbed for interviews, promotions or even committee memberships may be a sign that you need to do some work around your reputation.Successful people start with themselves. For the most part you cannot control what colleagues or company heads say about you. But you can control the circumstances that create your reputation.

It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently.  -Warren Buffett

If you believe you are not highly regarded, you need to consider remedying the pain points that may be causing those sentiments. Taking an honest look in the mirror and a deep dive into what you have to offer will get you where you want to go. Do you care? If the answer is yes, then understanding what it takes to be successful is your next step.

The successful person will:

  1. Ask for candid feedback. Deep down we all know where our challenges lie. Be brave and vulnerable and ask for feedback. Dr. Sylvia Ann Hewlett, founder of the Center for Talent Innovation agrees. In her research she found that women, for example, are getting "vague and ineffective feedback at work." She advises that "You need to signal to your boss or senior colleagues that you want honest feedback, and that you promise not to take it too personally." Often times supervisors hold back on giving feedback for fear of backlash, but if we truly want to learn where we stand, it may be just what we need to move us forward. Even if you learn that the organization is not the right fit for you, that is still an important lesson to learn.

The problem is straightforward: Without feedback there can be no transformative change. –Brené Brown

  1. Understand what they bring - or do not bring - to the table. Every time we enter a room we create a reaction. Even a non-reaction is a reaction. One of three things can happen when you enter a room: no one notices, everyone notices for the wrong reasons and avoids interaction with you, or the crowd will part, wonder who you area, and how they can meet you. You can absolutely control which one of these responses you cause.
  2. Learn their strengths. There are many developmental inventories on the market: Meyers-Briggs, Strengths Finder, Assessment 360, DiSC, etc. These tools can be useful in helping you pinpoint your abilities. In turn, use them to focus on your thought leadership. Understanding where your expertise lies can make you indispensable. As a Gallup Strengths Coach, I encourage clients to think about their strengths as traits that need constant improvement and focus. Strengths need to be developed and not ignored for the benefit of our weaknesses. Awareness of our weaknesses is important so that we can manage them, but they should not be prioritized over what we are naturally good at. Our strengths are where we find our passions and become our authentic selves.
  3. Improve their skills. Technology and hard skills are constantly shifting but they can be learned. Are you still using a flip phone or are you staying on the cutting edge of your industry? This could be through certifications or as simple as watching a few webinars. The bottom line is that constant improvement and learning are keys to your future in any industry.

    Another set of skills we sometimes neglect are the seemingly soft skills. But there is nothing soft about them. They are essential skills. For example, time management can make or break a reputation. I once had someone tell me that a colleague of ours was allergic to deadlines and that is why he did not get the promotion he was hoping for. In another scenario, I had a colleague who was constantly pointing out everything wrong with the organization, but never thought strategically or critically about how best to solve the company’s blind spots. An organization's leaders need critical thinkers not complainers.
  4. Build relationships, relationships, relationships. It is hard to execute projects and influence people if your relationships are limited or non-existent. I return to the concept of understanding your strengths and what you bring to the table. How can the skill set you already have help you with relationship building?

One genuine new relationship is worth a fistful of business cards. –Susan Cain

I have taken all four of the assessments I mentioned above. And there is a consistent theme to my strengths and personality. My number one strength is woo (winning others over). I am an off-the-charts extrovert according to Meyers Briggs and I was referred to as a master networker in my 360 assessment. I use these skills to move forward in my higher education career and in helping the people I coach. I work to strengthen these skills because I am passionate about what they do to enhance my relationships - for everyone's benefit.

When you put all of these practices together, there is no doubt that what is said about you when you are not in the room will be positive and beneficial to your future. You won’t have to find a sponsor because you will have one (or two) who want to see you grow. Whether you know who they are or not won’t matter because when you’re not in the room they will speak highly of you and your skills. And on the off chance that something unfavorable is said, they will also go to bat for you and defend you. You can't pay for that kind of support.

Born and raised in Bronx. NY to Dominican parents, Rosann always knew she had a purpose in life. She had a dream that both women and men could elevate their presence, be noticed, fulfilling their own unique dreams. With a compassionate soul and the deep burning desire to help others around her, she used her ability to noticate people through words and her hunger for knowledge to driver her closer and closer to that dream. She is now a career motivational keynote and among the best education keynote speakers for high school and college students. Currently serving as the Director of Strategic Initiatives for Student Affairs at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a City University of New York, and an adjunct faculty member in the Latin American Studies Department, Rosann has worked in higher education for nearly 20 years.

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