It’s about more than keeping your nose clean

Twelve years ago, my supervisor at Raytheon called me into her office to share something important. With excitement, she told me that I was being considered for a promotion to be chief of staff to the then-CEO. Needless to say, this played a few tricks on my mind, as I was both overwhelmed and excited, and, to be honest, a bit scared. Ultimately, I did not get the position, but it made me ask myself and my supervisor some important questions.When I asked my supervisor why I did not get the role, with some honest trepidation, she explained to me that I did not know how to self-promote. I can’t self-promote? Why would I have to self-promote? My mentors always told me that if I worked hard and kept my nose clean, I’d be a good employee, get recognized and advance. And for the most part it worked, until I was trying out for the role of a lifetime.What I realized was that senior leadership is not just about the numbers, hard work or following a clear process. There is no path that leads to the corner office, nor some clear method to get there. Leadership opportunities go to the folks who can solve complex puzzles of people, strategy and engagement. Being a good employee just gets you in the game. I needed to make some changes. I needed to be CEO of myself.I think many of us get caught in the same mindset. We expect others to just see our value and end up hoping for that opportunity. Hoping is fine, but while we diligently do what is expected of us, someone else is making an impression, working the deal, having an impact. Someone else is self-promoting themselves, creating a brand, and may get that dream job that we want as a result.Pathways to leadershipIf you’re hungry to grow, find that perfect job, land that contract or get promoted, you have to be CEO of yourself, and that means more than doing the job.Understand people, know them, be a resource and a connector. This is self-promotion in the most professional way. Other leaders know this and don’t mind you playing this game, too. Leaders know how important relationships are, and they use them to their advantage.Have a strategic plan for yourself. I’m talking mission, vision, objectives – the whole thing. Be the CEO and strategist of yourself.In business school, all students write a paper about where they are going and how they will get there. Have a strategy, map a plan and then execute. Engage with the world.The reason CEOs sit on boards is for information and access. They are in the know, on the edge of information, connected with great resources. By engaging in your community, sitting on boards for organizations you care about, or just joining a club, you are engaging in an unselfish way and you’ll make friends, associates and opportunities.I loved my experience in corporate America, and I appreciated the learning and relationships I made there. And I appreciate my supervisor for being honest with me and teaching me something about the real world. I will no longer hope for that new opportunity. The smarter I work, the luckier I get.Dr. Russ Ouellette is the managing partner of Sojourn Partners, a Bedford-based executive leadership strategy and coaching firm. He can be reached at 603-472-8103;; Twittered @RussOuellette; or Facebooked – Sojourn Partners.