Over the course of my career, I’ve seen a broad spectrum of career successes. (And, well, failures.) And I’ve thought a lot about the causes of those outcomes. Why do some succeed faster than others? Why do some get opportunities and others don’t? Why do some get stuck in their careers?
The answer, I’ve found, to all of these questions is making a lasting impression. If you consistently make a positive, memorable impact on your boss, your co-workers, and even your employees, you’ll increase your chances of getting hand-picked for the best opportunities when they come knocking, paving your way to career success.
It may sound simple, but leaving that lasting impression takes a strategic approach. Here are five tips that’ll help you make your mark and be remembered over anyone else in the room.
1. Keep it Real
I like the quote by Oscar Wilde that says, “Be yourself, everyone else is taken.” Sometimes, we get so caught up in trying to impress that we forget to show our true selves—we hold back opinions, squash our creative ideas, and downplay our personalities, all for fear of being judged.
Recently, at a leadership program in San Francisco, I witnessed the opposite—and it was so refreshing. Several groups of leaders from across the company were asked to present their recommendations based on a real-life customer problem. Naturally, seven of the eight teams gravitated toward sending the best sales or marketing leader on their teams to deliver their recommendations. But not one team. Instead, they sent the least obvious pick—an engineering leader.
To everyone’s surprise, he took us all on an eye-opening customer journey laced with Star Wars metaphors. Some of his feedback was extremely revealing, but it was accepted very well because it was unfiltered. He came across as a creative problem solver with a sense of humor, and, needless to say, that presentation was the one that everyone remembered because it was authentic and brilliant.
2. Make Deposits, Not Withdrawals
Just like a bank, every exchange or interaction that you have is like a deposit or withdrawal. People either feel energized after working with you—or exhausted.
To make sure you’re in the former camp, examine the factors that contribute toward deposits. Are you easy to work with? Do you give the person with whom you’re speaking undivided attention? Do you support your team during peak periods of stress? Are you leaving conversations making others feel empowered, motivated, and energized? These are great leadership qualities that will help you grow your deposits.
As I share this advice, one vice president that I work with comes to mind. He’s known as a technology innovator and leads one of the largest teams at my company. He knows very well that positive emotion accelerates innovation. As such, he makes a concerted effort to leave conversations making people feel inspired. And they usually do.
One easy tip that you can try today is giving the person you are speaking with your full attention. I often find people distracted in their own thoughts. When you’re having a conversation with someone, give your undivided attention and pay a close watch to your non-verbal gestures. Give eye contact, and don’t get distracted by the 10 action items waiting for you (or your phone!). The more focused you are in your conversations, the more you’ll get out of them, and the more deposits you’ll make.
3. Get Comfortable With Pressure
In the business world, people are defined by how they handle stress—it’s called “cope-ability.” Whether you’re presenting in front of a massive audience or dealing with a customer service crisis, nailing the pressure moments will define a lasting impression.
So, pay attention to how you handle stress and pressure, and start getting comfortable with it. In fact, go out of your way to put yourself in uncomfortable situations. When you do this often enough, you’ll be more immune to pressure when you are stress-tested—it just becomes more normal. I think it’s similar to muscle memory, where the act gets so routine, your body just goes into autopilot.
Being in your comfort zone for too long only creates a situation that makes it easier for you to crack under pressure. But if you’re constantly in the “stretch” zone, you’ll create a habit of performing well no matter what the pressure level.
4. Be Bright, Be Brief, Be Gone
This tip is something that’s stuck with me from a coaching session I had a few years ago. It’s all about being an expert in your line of work and presenting your ideas in a succinct and simple way.
First, you need to know what you’re great at, not what you’re good at. And when you know what that is, don’t be afraid to offer solutions and bring value to discussions. Whether you’re presenting at a meeting or having an impromptu chat with your boss, nail your point with simple language and simple solutions. Be bright, be brief, be gone—and you’ll always be remembered.
5. Get Elected
You often hear the advice to “manage up” and to promote yourself, making sure the higher-ups know about your achievements. And many people in the corporate world have climbed the ranks this way.
But this approach is never sustainable because it lacks authenticity. In the long run, a “vote for him or her” approach is much more powerful than “vote for me.” You want to be elected; the person who people throughout the organization want to help, want to work for, and want to see succeed. This will happen when you can authentically influence your audience throughout the organization, not just manage up. In fact, some of the best leaders I've worked with meet with cross-functional groups, at all levels, all the time. I’m privy to a vice president’s calendar, and I’ve noticed that he works with a wide audience across the whole company, frequently meeting with people at all levels. As it turns out, he’s one of those who gets the most support throughout the company.
Ask yourself this question, “Do I work with a diverse group of people at all levels?” If you do, great. If you don't, look for ways to extend your network to a broader set of colleagues. It’ll create more inclusion and buy-in, and a more successful career all around.