Don’t be the Best Kept Secret in Your Organization

“I feel like I’m the best kept secret in this organization,” said Tina.

She had been the last person hired by an energy company’s corporate treasury team before an 18-month hiring freeze. Not long after Tina joined the firm, commodity prices fell. Industry forecasters warned of hard times ahead. Tina’s department placed an indefinite hold on all hiring and promotions. Tina was a hard worker and a whipsmart financial analyst with three years of experience, so she was by no means an entry-level employee. However, as the youngest on her team, that’s how she was perceived for the for the foreseeable future. She struggled to escape the perception that she was the “junior” on the team.

Tina’s role involved daily tracking and reporting on corporate investment accounts. The work was fairly routine and came easily to her, and she could complete it quickly. Eager to help her group and demonstrate that she was team player, Tina offered to use her free time to assist some senior managers with any help they needed. Her intention was to show that she was a valuable contributor, but it backfired.

The senior managers quickly figured out that they could take all of the small, low-priority tasks that they could not be bothered dealing with and dump them on Tina, who soon became buried under a mountain of busy work. While she was reformatting PowerPoint slides, making lunch reservations, and negotiating better parking spaces, no one saw her dedication and work ethic, let alone the sophisticated analytical and problem-solving skills she brought to the team.

I met Tina at a women’s leadership workshop that her company hosted. She approached me during the lunch break to ask for advice about her predicament. She explained that it filled her with anxiety to imagine being stuck for another 18 months in a role that underutilized her talents and offered no growth. “I feel like I’m the invisible employee,” she remarked, with a sad smile.

So I offered to share a quick overview of the steps she could take to rebrand herself from entry-level “junior” employee to a role that that had greater currency on the team. But first, we needed to get a baseline of her starting point.

What brand are you currently known for? I asked. Her eyes widened. “I’m the pooper-scooper!” she exclaimed. “I’m the only one on the team who is willing to roll up her sleeves and clean up the little messes that the senior managers don’t want to deal with.”

“That’s not much of a leadership brand,” I commented, and we both laughed.

We spent the rest of our lunch hour discussing the higher level capabilities she had to offer, and how she could move beyond her current responsibilities. Tina brainstormed some of the ways she could see herself making a larger impact that might be of real value to her company.

Soon, Tina was bursting with enthusiasm for what was possible. She described how she wanted to work with her colleagues to identify critical financial issues and use her analytical skills to measure and articulate those problems. She wanted to propose solutions, and make sure those solutions were implemented. “Not only that,” she added, “I want to make sure the changes stick.”

“Do you see yourself as a change agent?” I asked. Tina’s eyes lit up in a way that let me know we were onto something significant. “Yes. That’s it! I want to be seen as a change agent,” she replied. And just like that, she defined her new personal brand. Starting the next day, she began to think and act more like a change agent than a newbie. She diplomatically informed her colleagues that she was no longer accepting low-level “pooper-scooper” tasks, and suddenly, found she had time to spare.

Tina let her manager know she had time to take on some “stretch” assignments. Together, they identified some critical business issues that were worthy of attention from an analytical problem-solver and change agent. With her manager’s guidance, Tina was so successful with her first two projects that she became known as the change agent on her team. She was promoted to manager within a year, and now helps other junior team members to identify their strengths, deliver valuable results, level-up how others perceive them, and, in time, and propel themselves forward into a new career phase.

Let’s face it: It isn’t especially easy to break out and establish yourself as an up-and-coming leader inside a large corporation.

Perhaps you have developed a great reputation as a valuable contributor with a solid work ethic, but wonder why it’s not translating into career advancement. Maybe you saw a coveted role get snapped up by a colleague—a job you know you could crush, if given the chance. And some days you feel, as Tina put it, like “the invisible employee”.

In short, you feel like the best kept secret in your organization. If that’s you, I want to be clear: It doesn’t have to stay that way.  You’ve bumped up against a barrier that many future leaders, especially women, will face at some point in their careers. Others have navigated beyond this barrier, and in these two videos, I share the steps you can take to move beyond that barrier.

Jo Miller

A leading authority on women’s leadership, Jo Miller is a sought-after, dynamic, and engaging speaker, delivering more than 70 speaking presentations annually to audiences of up to 1,200 women. Her expertise lies in helping women lead, climb, and thrive in their corporate careers. Jo has traveled widely in Europe, North America, Asia Pacific, and the Middle East to deliver keynotes and teach workshops for women’s leadership conferences, women’s professional associations, and Fortune 1000 corporate women’s initiatives. Jo is CEO of leadership development, consulting and research firm Be Leaderly. Learn more about her speaking engagements at and follow @Jo_Miller on Twitter.

25 Questions to Ask a Mentor

Whenever I’m asked “What are some of the best questions to ask a ...

Four Types of Questions To Ask Your Mentor

Have conversations with your mentor gotten a bit repetitive lately? Perhaps you approached ...

25 Songs For Your Leadership Playlist

What are your all-time favorite leadership songs — the ones that make you ...

How to Shut Down a Colleague Who Takes Credit for Your Work

Has this ever happened to you? You’re in a meeting and the unthinkable ...

5 Ways to be a Leader, Not a Manager

Have you ever wondered about the difference between a manager and a leader? ...

11 Leadership Lessons Learned

Here are 11 lessons I’ve learned about leadership—mostly from much-admired colleagues, and just ...

100 Leadership Qualities

What are your leadership strengths? That’s a question I ask in a survey ...

10 Killer Leadership Skills: The Great Differentiators?

Last week at Hallmark I hosted a couple gentlemen from a partner company. ...

Influencing Without Authority—Using Your Six Sources of Influence

I am in the difficult situation of being unofficial project lead, responsible for ...

9 Traits of Exceptional Leaders

Truly great leaders are hard to come by, but it seems everyone thinks ...

Unhappy at Work? Persuade Your Boss to Redefine Your Job.
Unhappy at Work? Persuade Your Boss to Redefine Your Job.

Every morning, Jonas backs into a parking spot at work so he can leave faster

If You’re Not Seizing Stretch Assignments at Work, You’re Doing It Wrong.
If You’re Not Seizing Stretch Assignments at Work, You’re Doing It Wrong.

These bonus opportunities have the power to boost your leadership cred and wholly transform your

The Case for Why Millennial Women Should Job-Hop
The Case for Why Millennial Women Should Job-Hop

There are strong arguments for and against the debated practice, but for millennial women, job-hopping

Infographic: How to Slay a Stretch Assignment
Infographic: How to Slay a Stretch Assignment

Recent years have been full of talk about how to elevate women at work. Have you

Panel Presentations: Does Speaker Order Really Matter?
Panel Presentations: Does Speaker Order Really Matter?

On speaker panels, does the panelist order matter? If you’ve ever attended or spoken on

4 Tips for Failing Forward
4 Tips for Failing Forward

After you make a mistake, it’s easy to focus intently on your defects. And then

Press Release: Be Leaderly’s Selena Rezvani Wins 2019 Croly Award for Excellence in Journalism
Press Release: Be Leaderly’s Selena Rezvani Wins 2019 Croly Award for Excellence in Journalism

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa—July 9, 2019—The General Federation of Women’s Clubs is pleased to honor Selena

4 Steps to a Flexible Work Arrangement
4 Steps to a Flexible Work Arrangement

Are you hungry for a little more flexibility in your day?  If so, you’re not

Dealing with a Bossy Coworker
Dealing with a Bossy Coworker

You might expect the occasional “order” or “command” from your boss. But it’s a whole

Press Release: Be Leaderly Wins Gold & Silver at the 2019 Stevie Awards
Press Release: Be Leaderly Wins Gold & Silver at the 2019 Stevie Awards

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa—June 11, 2019—Be Leaderly, a globally recognized provider of women’s leadership development and

Ask Jo: How can I thank my mentor?

Question: I have an incredible mentor. She ...

Teamwork is a Skill. It Takes Practice!

Everyone wants to lead, or be a ...

It’s Worth the Risk (I promise)

This is Sarah. She’s one of my ...

100 Leadership Qualities

What are your leadership strengths? That’s a ...

Leaderly Quote: Great Leaders Know When to Step Aside

“Great leaders know when to step aside.” ...

At Be Leaderly, our mission is a simple one: To provide proven career strategies that help you lead, climb, and thrive as a rising woman of influence. If you’re ready to lead, we’re here to support and inspire you.

Copyright 2019, Be Leaderly