Don’t be the best kept secret in your organization

“I feel like I’m the best-kept secret in this organization,” said Tina.

She had been the last person hired by an energy company’s corporate treasury team before an 18-month hiring freeze. Not long after Tina joined the firm, commodity prices fell. Industry forecasters warned of hard times ahead. Tina’s department placed an indefinite hold on all hiring and promotions.

Follow Ladders on Flipboard!

Follow Ladders’ magazines on Flipboard covering Happiness, Productivity, Job Satisfaction, Neuroscience, and more!

Tina was a hard worker and a whipsmart financial analyst with three years of experience, so she was by no means an entry-level employee. However, as the youngest on her team, that’s how she was perceived for the for the foreseeable future. She struggled to escape the perception that she was the “junior” on the team.

Tina’s role involved daily tracking and reporting on corporate investment accounts. The work was fairly routine and came easily to her, and she could complete it quickly. Eager to help her group and demonstrate that she was team player, Tina offered to use her free time to assist some senior managers with any help they needed. Her intention was to show that she was a valuable contributor, but it backfired.

The senior managers quickly figured out that they could take all of the small, low-priority tasks that they could not be bothered dealing with and dump them on Tina, who soon became buried under a mountain of busy work. While she was reformatting PowerPoint slides, making lunch reservations, and negotiating better parking spaces, no one saw her dedication and work ethic, let alone the sophisticated analytical and problem-solving skills she brought to the team.

I met Tina at a women’s leadership workshop that her company hosted. She approached me during the lunch break to ask for advice about her predicament. She explained that it filled her with anxiety to imagine being stuck for another 18 months in a role that underutilized her talents and offered no growth. “I feel like I’m the invisible employee,” she remarked, with a sad smile.

So I offered to share a quick overview of the steps she could take to rebrand herself from entry-level “junior” employee to a role that that had greater currency on the team. But first, we needed to get a baseline of her starting point.

What brand are you currently known for? I asked. Her eyes widened. “I’m the pooper-scooper!” she exclaimed. “I’m the only one on the team who is willing to roll up her sleeves and clean up the little messes that the senior managers don’t want to deal with.”

“That’s not much of a leadership brand,” I commented, and we both laughed.

We spent the rest of our lunch hour discussing the higher level capabilities she had to offer, and how she could move beyond her current responsibilities. Tina brainstormed some of the ways she could see herself making a larger impact that might be of real value to her company.

Soon, Tina was bursting with enthusiasm for what was possible. She described how she wanted to work with her colleagues to identify critical financial issues and use her analytical skills to measure and articulate those problems. She wanted to propose solutions, and make sure those solutions were implemented. “Not only that,” she added, “I want to make sure the changes stick.”

“Do you see yourself as a change agent?” I asked. Tina’s eyes lit up in a way that let me know we were onto something significant. “Yes. That’s it! I want to be seen as a change agent,” she replied. And just like that, she defined her new personal brand. Starting the next day, she began to think and act more like a change agent than a newbie.

She diplomatically informed her colleagues that she was no longer accepting low-level “pooper-scooper” tasks, and suddenly, found she had time to spare.

Tina let her manager know she had time to take on some “stretch” assignments. Together, they identified some critical business issues that were worthy of attention from an analytical problem-solver and change agent. With her manager’s guidance, Tina was so successful with her first two projects that she became known as the change agent on her team.

She was promoted to manager within a year, and now helps other junior team members to identify their strengths, deliver valuable results, level-up how others perceive them, and, in time, and propel themselves forward into a new career phase.

Let’s face it: It isn’t especially easy to break out and establish yourself as an up-and-coming leader inside a large corporation.

Perhaps you have developed a great reputation as a valuable contributor with a solid work ethic, but wonder why it’s not translating into career advancement. Maybe you saw a coveted role get snapped up by a colleague—a job you know you could crush, if given the chance. And some days you feel, as Tina put it, like “the invisible employee”.

In short, you feel like the best-kept secret in your organization. If that’s you, I want to be clear: It doesn’t have to stay that way.  You’ve bumped up against a barrier that many future leaders, especially women, will face at some point in their careers. Others have navigated beyond this barrier, and in these two videos, I share the steps you can take to move beyond that barrier.

This article first appeared on Be Leaderly