Joel Garfinkle’s Getting Ahead: Three Steps to Take Your Career to the Next Level

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A month ago, Joel Garfinkle (@joelgarfinkle) sent me a copy of his book Getting Ahead: Three Steps to Take Your Career to the Next Level.  Garfinkle, one of the top 50 executive coaches in the U.S., explains that most successful leaders have gotten to where they are by leveraging and applying perception, visibility, and influence better than anyone else.  In short, we need to:

  • Improve perception
  • Increase visibility
  • Exert influence

Have there been times when you've done the work, but you didn't get the credit?  If you don't get the credit (remember, I'm talking about at work), there's no increase in perception or visibility, and therefore no influence.

With that in mind, here are some ideas to consider:

Perception:  Your professional success has very little to do with your perception of others; rather, it has everything to do with the perception others have of you.  Stanford professor Jeffrey Pfeffer noted, “Doing great work won't guarantee a promotion or a raise, and it may not even be important for keeping your job.  What matters is your ability to get noticed.”

I still remember one painful year as an equity analyst.  I'd had extremely strong client reviews and the quantifiable metrics were equally robust, but my internal colleagues' perception of me was quite unfavorable (e.g. too aggressive).  Garfinkle's Four-Step Perception Management Process, including his online assessment, would have been helpful.

The one thing human beings fear mosteven more than death, in some casesis public speaking. Why? Because they are afraid of being visible. When you speak in front of a group, you make yourself completely visible to your audience. You can't hide.

We fear being visible, but when you are invisible, no one knows what “without you, might have never been.”  This is especially true for women who tend to be worker bees and frequently experience the double bind of tooting our own horn.  Garfinkle's book provides some useful suggestions on overcoming fear of the spotlight.  One I especially like is, “If you feel a sense of resistance to engaging in self-promotion, the best context for you to do so is simply by responding to a question.”

If people believe in you, they will follow you.  If they follow you, you have influence. If you have influence you are a leader influence without power (think Ghandi) has achieved some of the greatest accomplishments in history.

I find myself frequently without formal power, except with my children (which is possibly why sometimes that power gets abused…), but to underscore that the game really is about influence, not authority, Garfinkle suggests writing down five ways in which you have observed others exerting influence without relying on their authority, power or title.  I also like his tips on influencing down, sideways and up. Research has shown that men can neglect managing sideways and down, but women cannot.  We have to do all three well.

Finally, I know this all seems a bit self-aggrandizing.  But if you want to advance your career in order to put food on the table, and do good in the world, you need to be willing to take off your invisibility cloak—because positive perception, visibility and influence are requisite.


Have you ever struggled at work because the perception that others had of you was unfavorable?
Have you ever experienced the paradox of wanting to be invisible and visible simultaneously?
Who have you noticed wielding influence without power or authority?

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