Invisible, or unwritten, rules mean different things to different people. In some circles, an invisible rule is "don't broadcast your romance with your colleague in the office". Or, "it's important to take initiative."
Not that these aren't good rules of thumb – they are. But for bright, educated professionals they're completely intuitive and not the kind of invisible rule you'll find here.
The rules I focus on are around leadership – how you gain access, and how you can enhance and sustain your leadership position. My focus is on the subtle, hidden truths that fast-trackers have used for ages – but which often don't filter out to others in any kind of "packaged" way.
These five rules are rich with promise. If used correctly, they can rock your professional world.
Invisible Rule #1. Results matter - but relationships matter more
When you are starting out your career, results matter a lot. They are generally achieved by leveraging your technical skills – often in a hard-driving, winner-take-all mode. Your results are a magnet for attention and recognition, for rewards and promotions.
When you reach management ranks, however, the perspective shifts radically. Results don't become unimportant, but relationships fostered within the organization carry equal - or greater - weight.
Organizations are inherently social – they run on relationships. As you ascend in the organization, you are expected to balance aggressiveness and drive with the ability to develop collegial, trusting relationships with other senior leaders. It is a cost of admission to the executive suite.
And why not? Leaders work long hours together, often under stressful conditions, to achieve their goals. It stands to reason they want to surround themselves with team members they respect and with whom they have rapport.
Invisible Rule #2: Develop a strategic frame of reference.
Early in our careers, we learn to focus strictly on our jobs. We're rewarded for a job well done, for working hard and meeting our goals.
For many, it's a pattern that stays around too long.
As you move up the organization, it's critical to adopt a broader view. "My goals" must become "our goals"; a departmental perspective must become a company perspective.
Understand how the company fits into the bigger, competitive landscape. What are our strengths? How well do we compete? What are our strategic imperatives?
Understanding these broader issues positions you to converse at a level well beyond your job. You have opinions that matter. You become a force.
>h3>Invisible Rule #3: Package yourself to stand out - and fit in.
Some will argue that your external packaging should not be important, as in "don't judge a book by its cover". But the truth is that perceptions are developed almost immediately as a result of the 'wrapping' one sees.
And, perception is reality. If an executive is put off by your wrapping, they are not likely to dig deeper to discover technical, strategic and relationship attributes – no matter how positive these may be.
Your packaging includes:
- how you look - your hair, dress and hygiene. Take your cue from senior management and/or other industry professionals.
- how you behave. Flamboyance might be perfect in some environments and deadly in others. Do you arrive at meetings looking organized and "in control", or are you landing out of breath, papers askew, without a pen?
- your environment – keep your office looking sharp. Personal pictures are fine, but save the artsy and kooky for ad agency art directors. Make sure your written reports are well-written and grammatically correct.
Invisible Rule #4: Promote thyself If you are invisible, it doesn't matter how brilliant you are or what results you deliver. You won't go far.
Healthy self-promotion is a major element in influencing your success…yet for many, especially women, this rule is the biggest challenge of all. Growing up, we are not encouraged to bring attention to ourselves and/or we think of self-promotion as self-aggrandizement.
Here is where "intention" needs to enter your mental framework. It is not self-aggrandizement if your intention is to convey information which shows the value that you've brought to the company in terms of savings or profitability.
Healthy self-promotion is not about "I", or taking credit for someone else's work, or inserting yourself into someone else's recognition moment.
It is about "my team" and getting yourself on the right radar screens, being an active participant in the business discourse by conveying your perspective, ideas and point of view.
Invisible Rule #5: Grant yourself permission
. Permission means believing that you are as entitled to sit at the same table, enter the conversation and be heard, as anyone else. It is the ability to engage higher level managers at "eye level".
Admittedly, it's nice to be recognized and invited into a conversation. But it is even more important to trust your own self-worth and invite yourself into the discussion.
Permission is grounded in clarity and confidence. All of us have self doubts from time to time, and, in fact, even the greatest leaders have likely had their teetering moments.
The fundamental difference is that those who operate from an "eye level" belief system are more likely to engage, participate in and deliver their best efforts than those who do not believe their own worth.
It might help to consider the whole scope of your career - your many wins and contributions, and any other "pride stories" you've experienced. Let these events empower you to trust yourself and overcome any negative self-talk.