Promotion needs rehearsal

Dear Joan:
Soon I will have my Business Management Degree and want to make the jump. Even though I have worked my way up the ranks, I am still looked at as a secretary. How do I convince them that I will be a valuable asset and should be considered an equal in a management position?

If you've been type cast as a secretary, it's time to start rehearsing for another position. You will need much more than a degree to shatter the perceptions of those around you. Because you have already worked your way up, you know how to audition for positions you want- and this will be the toughest part you ever tried out for.

Unfortunately, I've noticed that secretarial jobs are often viewed as bit parts and some managers never consider that these assistants could have star qualities. Sometimes prima dona managers equate secretaries who have degrees with the stereotypical Hollywood waitress who calls herself an actress. If this is the case, you need to change this in the eyes of the casting director-your boss.

If you haven't done so already, examine the script of your job for any tasks that could be expanded. For example, if you currently schedule luncheons for special events, perhaps you could ask your boss to turn over more of the coordination and planning to you. Look for any opportunities to expand your part and get more of the limelight.

Next, examine your boss's job to find the parts you could help with. Often managers dislike pieces of their job or don't have time to do everything. Don't wait in the wings, step forward and offer to do whatever you can. In fact, where possible, don't even ask. For example, write a draft of a letter or memo that you know needs to be done. Give the draft to your boss and say, "I thought you might like a draft to get you started." Before you know it, your boss may expand your part to supporting actress.

I have found that it's often better to take the initiative instead of asking for more responsibilities. When you ask, your manager is likely to draw a blank. He or she may not be used to thinking in terms of what they could give up in their day to day routine. Quietly, begin by thinking for your boss. Try to stay one step ahead of your manager and pretend you are his stand-in. This will force you to anticipate his needs. More than one stand-in has risen to stardom when an opportunity has presented itself.

Meanwhile, look outside your work area for volunteer opportunities in the company. New kinds of visibility are vital if you are to break out of your old role. Find occasions to work alongside other managers in the company and use these times to showcase your management capabilities. In fact, if you have your eye on a different department, you'd be wise to do a school project on some topic in that department and find some way to interview the department head, research a subject they would like to know more about or find some other pertinent project that would have some value to that department.

In order to be thought of as "management" you need to know that several things are very important. First of all, management candidates are employees who reach out for more responsibility. They take the initiative and never wait to be told what to do next. They think like one of management; that is, they aren't worried so much about 'what's in it for me' but rather, how they can help the organization. They don't complain that their treatment isn't fair. Instead, they search for ways to fix problems that will be a win-win for the company and the people involved. They look at their relationship with their boss as a partnership and always try to have the boss's lines memorized so they can help him or her from the wings.

Management candidates are able to interact with people at all organizational levels. They can communicate with the producers and directors as well as with the stagehands and they don't let status intimidate or corrupt them. Their communication skills are as important to them as their technical expertise. They are team players who don't need to be the leading lady all the time.

Sometimes, in spite of all of the things I've mentioned, the director will not give you a bigger part. If it is evident that your boss is not going to give you more responsibility even though you clearly deserve a break, it's time to look for a different casting company. Some secretaries tell me that they were only able to break out of the stereotype by going to a different company. However, these individuals were careful to do all of the things I mentioned so that they could create an accomplishment-packed resume. Other secretaries who simply recorded the traditional secretarial duties on their resume but listed "management position" as their job objective were sorely disappointed.

These secretaries who became management were very strategic in the way they approached this transformation. They dressed as if they were already in management, built their credentials, networked internally and externally and slowly began acting the part. Eventually, their audience began to see them as they wanted to be a leading role.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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