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  • Writer's pictureAmii Barnard-Bahn

Try These Four Tips To Improve Your External Awareness

Welcome to the second in a five-part series on my newly released Promotability Index, launched last month. (In case you missed it, here is a link to Issue #1 on Self-Awareness.) Today we’re going to focus on External Awareness – the second of the five key leadership elements that help get you promoted.

External awareness is fundamental to effective leadership because even if you are doing and saying the right things, how and when you do so can be perceived in different ways, and perception matters. In simple terms, it is how others experience you and your behavior (popularly expressed as “your personal brand”). 

I was recently speaking with an executive friend about the Promotability Index. She said, “Amii – these five elements are all important, but external awareness – that is the one that will sneak up and kill your career if you don’t get it right.” 

And that is so true! So, in alignment with my mantra of out-behaving the competition, here are four actionable things can you do in 2020 to improve your external awareness:

1. Conduct an influence self-audit of your stakeholder relationships. To be recognized as a strategic business partner, you need influence. How do you know whether you have the influence you need? 

To help evaluate how much influence you currently have in your role, use this simple process to conduct an influence self-audit:Write down the top 10 people that help you get your job done.For each person, grade them from 1 to 5 on how much you depend on them. If someone is critical to you getting your job done, give them a high score. Think broadly - include factors such as mentoring, daily work support, moral support, and organizational power/authority. Then, for each person, grade them on a scale of 1 to 5: how they would rate you on the same factors? How much do they depend on you (give it your best guess)? Audit your results. Are there any red flags? For example, are you taking more value than you’re giving to your key network (i.e., you rate them more highly than they rate you)? Is your list diversified, or is it overly concentrated in one department, geographic location, or team? 

Based on your results, consider whether you need to improve your scores.

The number one way to improve your scores is to deliver value to your stakeholders. Think about their needs and how you can help them achieve their objectives. Build alliances before you need them. This usually involves increasing the frequency of your contacts so that you get information that enables you to be helpful to them. Consider whether it would be valuable to set up a monthly check-in on your areas of collaboration.

Next, get to know the agendas of your key stakeholders. They are under business pressure just as you are, and if you know what is important to them and can help them in one area, things will go a lot better with your conversation when you need to put the brakes on in a different area. As part of my coaching engagements, I interview key stakeholders for my client on their perceptions of effectiveness that enables transparency across all important relationships. This takes the guesswork out of where you need to focus and where you need to build stronger ties.

2. Scale yourself. People joke about cloning themselves, but when you build a high-performing team, you are exponentially increasing your output capability and quality. Building a high-performing team requires humility, empathy and collaboration. By extension, your team is a visible reflection of you -- who you are, and what you're capable of. Because all large organizations must achieve primarily through interdependent teamwork (and less and less by autocratic fiat), executive management evaluates your promotability on your ability to build an effective team. Do this well, and it becomes part of your corporate reputation. Your leadership is noticed based on the quality of the output of your team. 

3. Lift others up. OK, so what if you’re not at the point where you have a team? It’s so important at all stages of your career to mentor others. Think of a key leader who helped advise you along your career path. Be one of those people. It’s a truism that we learn best when we are teaching others. 

Pick one person this year outside your business unit that you can help, and commit to spending an hour with them once a month on a work issue they have. You will feel great, and they will thank you. I love receiving notes from former team members and colleagues about what they’re doing now and how our work together helped them. I’m sure it’s one of the reasons I became an executive coach.  

As Jack Welch has said, “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” 

4. Keep a “No” list. To a great degree, being a great leader is directly tied to the ability to say “No” to the right things. Do you delegate an assignment, but then have trouble letting go (micromanaging)? Do you address poor performance promptly after a pattern begins to emerge? Think about where you have a hard time saying no, even though you know you should, and commit to setting a boundary next time. 

While external awareness is one of the most fundamental leadership qualities, it can also be hard to improve on your own. It’s difficult because many people don’t feel comfortable giving you candid feedback (especially if they report to you), and that’s why many leaders turn to coaches to create a psychologically safe space to have candid conversations and collect this data, elicit behavior themes, and support them in how to move forward. External awareness is where many leaders get tripped up, because the higher you go, the less feedback you get. It’s quiet at the top! It’s very much worth working on, however, because it’s critical to getting promoted. Knowing how you show up to others provides incredible benefits, because if you are armed with this information, you can do something about it.

After you’ve taken the Promotability Index, take a look at your External Awareness score. Which checklist items are missing? Where would you like to invest?

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