Ways to get yourself noticed at work:
You could put a free bushel of candy at your desk.
A different limb in a cast every other week.
An Oscar statuette next to your Nobel Peace Prize and your letter from Bill Gates saying he wishes he had thought of that.
Ever look up from your cubicle into that vast expanse of other folks looking up from their cubicles and wonder how in the world you will get yourself noticed so that you can one day have a corner office? Or, as you ring up the groceries for your 387th customer of the day, wonder how you can move from ringer to ringleader? Carrying yet one more suitcase up the stairs, do you think there's no way you will ever be able to wear a suit, working in management?
You don't need bushels of free candy and blinking neon lights at your desk to get tapped for the leadership track. But you do need to make yourself and your desires known, and you need to pay attention to those who are where you want to be someday.
Without blowing your own horn too brazenly, make sure your voice is heard: Raise questions, voice concerns, emphasize your ideas.
Leadership is possible, even when you feel as though you are just a little speck on the radar of a company the size of a small city. Sing the song of yourself.
It's important to make yourself known. If you have an idea, voice it. If you're afraid to do that, e-mail it.
"Use the technology that you have within your control to share ideas as much as you can," suggests Cathy Walt, a partner at Andersen Consulting's Institute for Strategic Change and co-author of a study, "The Evolving Role of Executive Leadership."
Walt's co-author, fellow Andersen partner Alastair Robertson, agrees. "Technology can be used as a leveling device to get people involved," he said. "It encourages getting the ideas out there."
So if your company is tech-savvy, or at least e-mail-minded, use it. It may be just the vehicle to get your idea of the century noticed before the century runs out.
Mahan Tavakoli, director of Dale Carnegie Training for the Washington region, suggests speaking up, no matter what the method. "A lot of people have great ideas, but when they have the opportunity, they don't speak up. Then someone else says what they wanted to say, and that person gets credit for it," he said. Managers and other decision makers "need to know you are there." The person who speaks up is the one with the leader's personality.
Don't sell yourself short. "A young person who views themselves as not having the experience to share knowledge is not only going to limit themselves, they are going to limit the organization," said Walt.
Remember that you are a part of that organization. Share your good ideas. You will be remembered for it, and your leadership potential will shine through. "I have never met a senior [executive] that has not wanted to hear a good idea," Walt said.
From Bagger to Manager
"Any position has upward mobility," said Barry Scher, vice president of public affairs for Giant Food Inc. "But it depends on the individual and his or her desire to move up."
The move up is possible. And sometimes that's the most important thing to remember.
"The vast majority of our store managers started in part-time at store level," he said. "For those who are willing to work hard, coupled with long hours, the rewards are possible."
But don't just do your best work and keep your head down. Make it known what you want. "The first step is to do an outstanding job in the entry-level position. Then express desire to the supervisor to move up," he said.
Brendan Keegan, executive vice president of human resources at Marriott International Inc. in Bethesda, agrees. "We're looking for people who are proactive. Initiative-takers, someone who demonstrates enthusiasm for the job," he said. Making the most of your hourly position will get you noticed, especially if you speak up about what you want. Show 'em what you got, kid.
"Be proactive," advises Tavakoli. "Don't just wait to be assigned projects. Think ahead, think like your manager would." And make sure that he notices. "Work on recognizing that we are all in sales. Sell yourself and your idea constantly," Tavakoli stressed. "We need to beat our own drum to an appropriate level."
"At Andersen, we recruit the biggest and best," said Robertson. "Being successful in our firm frankly has less to do with intellect and much more with making a mark, having influence and emotional maturity."
You want to be a leader? Work-related activities can help.
If you are shy, for example, put yourself in activities that let you work on interpersonal relationships, said Dana McDonald-Mann, senior program associate at the Greensboro, N.C.-based Center for Creative Leadership, a nonprofit educational center specializing in leadership development. She suggests joining something such as Toastmasters International, an organization that provides members with the opportunity to practice public speaking. "Get involved," urged Tavakoli. He suggests checking in with Greater D.C. Cares, which can place you in a volunteer organization. He also suggests finding an organization, such as the Greater Washington Board of Trade, that allows you to interact with business leaders and see things through their eyes.
"Management is about relating to people," said Marriott's Keegan. "Working in a hospitality environment like ours, difficulties arise. You have to be able to handle the tensions."
Find out what you need to work on to shine at the office, what you need to stand out among your peers. Then "come up with a plan of action to do that. Put yourself in activities to use that skill," McDonald-Mann said.
If you have questions about getting ahead, you can e-mail Amy Joyce at firstname.lastname@example.org