I met a woman last year who was probably in her early 20s, maybe 25. She came up to me after one of my programs and said, “I’ve got a reputation in my office as ‘the office mom’.” She continued, “Everybody calls me the office mom, and I get feedback that I’m valued because of this role.” She said, “I’m getting passed up for promotions, I don’t even think I’m getting any respect, because I have this brand, this label.” Being known as ‘the office mom’ was clearly hindering her opportunities.
We talked about what she could be doing and perhaps what she had been doing to build that reputation. In fact, she’d been feeding right into it! She was the person that organized the Friday afternoon parties. She was the one that always set up the meetings with the napkins and the coffee pot and the bottled waters. She was the one that cleaned up afterwards. She was the one that made sure everybody got a birthday card on his or her birthday. She was a very giving, generous, warm person, but because she was feeding into this perception, she was limiting her opportunities.
We decided that she had to pull back on some of these activities. It didn’t mean she went from being a warm, generous, approachable person to being cold and distant, but she had to remove that brand perception because she was not going to be taken seriously and advance in the organization.
Understanding the roles that others see you filling starts with a process of gathering feedback. Begin by gathering feedback from people you trust and respect. Send an email to six, or eight, or ten people and ask them to give you insight about your brand; ask them to share feedback about whether they would refer you to somebody else, what they look to you for, and where they see your value. Regardless of the answers, thank them for their insight. Sometimes the feedback that comes back is not exactly what you’d hoped for, but it’s still valuable insight that helps you understand your current brand!