The Very Real Problems When You Decide to Fly Under the Radar

Jun 5, 2014

I often hear people say something like: “I like to fly under the radar. I like to keep my head down and just do the work. It’s the work that matters. I don’t want to be one of those annoying, political people.”

I find that very often when people take this position, they believe that they are on the high ground — that they are somehow morally superior to those who are more visible. And that being visible is, by definition, a shallow, self-serving endeavor.

Why this is a bad idea

There are three issues with this:

  1. If you choose to “fly under the radar, don’t be confused or upset when you get passed over for raises and promotions. This was your strategy — to make sure no one knows you are there!
  2. You are missing the opportunity to do better, more effective, more valuable work, if you don’t connect with others to increase your access to knowledge, experience and learning from others.
  3. You are withholding value from the company by not sharing what you have learned with others.

There is nothing political about communicating things of value and sharing knowledge. And when you do this, guess what? — you are no longer invisible!

You can’t opt out of communicating. And, pretending you are on the high ground by opting out of communicating is only shooting yourself in the foot.

Visibility and humility

Are you really taking the high ground based on humility? Or are you just avoiding doing something you find uncomfortable? Be honest with yourself.

What I advise people is to build their visibility and their credibility in way that is both doable and comfortable to them, even if they are shy or humble.

Humility is good. Invisible is not

You can build your visibility and preserve your humility.

Here’s where I think many people get tripped up. I say, “Make sure your work is not invisible. Make sure others know what you doing and why it matters…”

For example, if your job is to complete an analysis and write up a report, when you finish the report, it would indeed be awkward to go around telling everybody, “Hey, I did this great analysis and produced this great report.

That was your job, and communication like that would come off as annoying self-promotion — as bragging.

But the other choice of completing the report, emailing it off, and starting the next one without communicating about it to anyone, is not the right thing to do either.

Communicate things of real value

The trick to not bragging is to only share things of real value with others.

If you are wondering whether or not you should communicate about something you accomplished, ask yourself, “would others benefit from knowing this?”

If the answer is yes, here are some ideas for ways to communicate that will not sound like you are bragging in the least.

1. What I learned

If you used a new system or technology, or uncovered an item of general interest in your research, share something you learned.

Don’t just keep new learnings to yourself. Point people to the useful answers and resources that you have found. “While I was completing the XY analysis, I learned that you could use Linkedin in a very interesting way…”

Sharing knowledge has the benefit of making you visible, without calling specific attention to yourself.

2. Why something matters

As you are working, always be thinking about why your work matters and who your work impacts.

For example, “In doing the research for the XY analysis, I discovered that these two groups were doing work that was overlapping. By connecting the dots we were able to change the process for the future to take the best of both groups’ work and eliminate the duplication of effort.”

Sharing benefits of the work with others, actually helps them. It is not just about you.

3. Meet the next level up

When your boss asks you to prepare information to be presented to upper management, ask if you can go to the meeting with your boss and be the one to present it. (All bosses should do this for their top performers.)

If your boss is not doing it they may just not have thought of it. I have seen too much work get “stolen” merely because the people who did the work, voluntarily (or enthusiastically) opted out of being the presenter.

Don’t stay in the wings and always let others present your work (even if you prefer that).

4. Say “thank you”

Send a message to an executive stakeholder of your work and tell them that you really appreciate something they said or did. Let them know how it impacted you, what you did with the insight, and what the result was.

Most executives get very few “thank you for doing a great job” messages. Don’t be lazy about this and make a vague gesture. Be concrete and specific, and connect it with what you accomplished.
It (and you) will stand out as long as it is sincere and well thought through, and connects to the real, actual detail of what the executive said or did. If it’s not sincere and concrete, don’t do it — then it would be self-serving and annoying.

5. Ask for advice

This is a great way to make a visible connection in a very genuine, productive way.

Send your stakeholder a note and ask for 10 minutes of their time to get some coaching or input on your project. This is flattering. If you are very clear about what you are after, and make it clear you only want a short amount of their time, most people will be happy to help.

You will score points for being interested in them, and they will then know who you are. I have used this approach over and over throughout my career. Sometimes the best way to get positive visibility is to ask a favor of someone who is easy for them to give.

This was originally published on Patty Azzarello’s Business Leadership Blog. Her latest book is Rise: How to be Really Successful at Work and LIKE Your Life.