Do you demonstrate your leadership potential at work?
Often lost in the discussion of improving diversity in advertising is what you (no matter your role or tenure) can and should do every day to push your own career forward.
Without getting into role-specific advice, here are five essential things you can start doing every day to build up your credibility at work:
1. Speak credibly and stop over-apologizing
Your words will be far more convincing when you don’t first signal your uncertainty or hesitation. Qualifying an important point with "I feel like" or "I’m just thinking aloud here but…" sucks the life out of whatever brilliant idea was going to come next.
And the biggest credibility killer in language is over-apologizing. Since moving to the UK, I have learned that you have to say you’re sorry twelve times just to cross the street or exit an elevator, but please remember that "I’m sorry" is not the same thing as "excuse me."
It weakens your credibility every time you use it, except when you are stepping up to take responsibility for a situation that was in your control. That is highly credible.
Here’s a great tip we workshopped at R/GA’s Woman Up collective. Instead of saying "I’m sorry," replace it with "Thank you." Don’t say "I’m sorry for being late" say "Thank you for waiting."
2. Act decisively and get known for it
We all know that decision making is stressful. You’ll never have 100% of the information you’ll need. Don’t be what Jessica Bennett in her book Feminist Fight Club calls a "Herfectionist." Take the 80% solution, and trust your gut and your values for the rest.
When you can’t see through the fog of crisis or uncertainty, focus on areas you can control (because you can act upon them!) and push yourself to make timely decisions. It gets easier with practice.
3. Learn How and When to Say No to Work Requests
Here is a true story from Beth Brown, an executive producer on my team, who told us about a time she was overwhelmed on the account she led, with projects in flight, new briefs arriving, annual planning due and key teammates on holiday. One night, everything came to a head when multiple people on her team came to her desk wanting help.
She really wanted to say yes, but she knew that she couldn’t get the critical tasks accomplished and also help them. So, she reluctantly said "no." As she told us on reflection, three really great things happened:
First - no one died! Her colleagues told her not to worry and that they would follow up later only if needed.
Second - it empowered her team. They realized they should try first to answer their own questions instead of defaulting to her.
Third - it changed the team dynamic overall. They realized that there would be times where she needed more help than they did, and they offered to lend their support more often.
The takeaway is sometimes we just need to say no, and on top of that, it can actually be a positive.
4. Be seen and heard
Learning to demonstrate your authority to people who may have more is a critical skill to develop. In a big meeting, remember to make an entrance – take a central seat at the table (not by the door or wall) and state your relevant biography so that no one can judge you by first appearances or their implicit biases.
Here’s another tip from our Woman Up workshops: when you walk into a big meeting, say something, anything. In the UK it's easy, just say something about the weather. Hearing your own voice, and having others hear it right away, signals that yours is a voice that will be heard in this meeting.
5. Defend yourself against interrupters and credit takers
We all know the people (particularly men) who are very used to hearing themselves speak. Stand your ground then and there, or tell them in a one-on-one later that cutting you off wasn’t cool. And by later, I mean there’s no statute of limitations if it’s been bothering you for days or even weeks. In my experience, nearly everyone works to address their bad behavior once it’s been called out even once or twice.
And if you see this happening to someone else, be an ally: say "Can you let her finish? I was really interested in the point she was making." Or "It’s so great that you support Amy’s idea from 30 minutes ago!"
And keep learning
Credibility is the source of your power and it’s like a bank account that you can keep making deposits into every day. There is no shortage of authors and speakers with incredible advice on how to build up your credibility while remaining your authentic self throughout. So keep learning and please feel free to contact me or the amazing women leading Woman Up to keep the conversation going.
Daniel Jurow is the EVP, Global Head of Production at R/GA and a proud member of R/GA’s Woman Up collective.