ON THE ELEVATOR

So how do you start taking responsibility for assuring your work gets noticed? How do you draw attention to what you contribute without feeling like a self-centered jerk? You might start by articulating a vision of where you would like your job to take you so you can give people a context for what you want in your future. Then prepare yourself to take advantage of any opportunities to share what you see.

This is an approach advocated by Dong Lao, who serves as executive sponsor for the women’s initiative at a London-based global financial institution. In addition to being a world-class banker, Lao works with the women in his organization to identify how to secure the resources they need to get ahead. During a recent conference at an off-site in Switzerland, a participant asked him during the large plenary session what one thing he thought women could do to better position themselves for leadership in the organization.

He responded with a story about finding himself in the elevator at the bank’s London headquarters a few months before. A young male analyst who had recently joined the organization was standing next to him when a high-profile senior official stepped inside.

peech memorized and ready to go. “First, it shows you’re ambitious, and that your ambition is focused on something specific that you’re working to achieve. Second, it gives you an opportunity to talk about your skills or background in a way that aligns with what could be useful to the organization, not just now but in the years ahead. You’re not blowing hot air, you’re telling a story about why you have what it takes to move up and, by implication, how the organization can benefit from that. Third, it gives you a chance to show that you’re thoughtful, reflective, and concise—the last being important to executives who are always pressed for time and in the habit of asking people to bottom-line it.”

What was particularly impressive, said Lao, was how the young man stopped speaking once he had said his piece. “He didn’t ramble on or try to fill the time. He came to a full stop and handed over his card. Mission accomplished.”

Lao suggested each participant at the conference work on developing an elevator speech, a clear and concise summary of what she does, what she wants to do in the future, and why she believes she’s the right person to do it. He said, “The most important things are that it’s real, a true statement of what you could see yourself doing in the future and have a desire to do. And that it’s as brief as you can possibly make it. No background, no extra details, no explanations, justifications, ifs, or hedges. You want to keep it as short and clear and strong as you can.

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