“Keep Your Head Down and Work Hard”

It was the worst piece of advice I ever received.  “Keep your head down and work hard… eventually you will get noticed.”

The terrible news?  I listened and thought, surely, if my output is stellar, if I do what I say I’m going to do, I’ll be recognized and rewarded.  Turns out, that’s not true.

Oddly enough, I didn’t discover this contradiction to the early bit of advice until I was sitting face-to-face, one-on-one with the COO of the company I was working for at the time.  We had just had what I deemed one of the best job interviews I’d ever had… the time was flying by… we had tons to discuss… etc.  At about minute 45 of 60, he paused and said, “Well, Alana, what I’m confused about is this:  Your resume is great, you are very well qualified for the role I have in mind for you, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this discussion… however, why is it that I’ve never heard of you?”  What?  Needless to say, I was crushed.  I felt embarrassed and ashamed.  I said, “I thought that if I kept my head down and did good work, eventually I would get noticed.”  His response, “Well, you know, none of your peers think that way.  Most of them are doing fine work.  What they are also doing, however, is positioning themselves for promotion, purposefully putting themselves in front of senior executives like me, making sure they get noticed.”

It was an important lesson.  As a young professional, what I had failed to realize is that hard work and stellar results are only part of the equation – and, often, not even the most important aspect.  Instead, what I later learned is that:

  1. It’s just assumed you’re going to work hard and deliver the goods – that’s your ticket for entry; and
  2. In order to truly get noticed, it’s critical to build relationships at every level of the organization, to establish trust with clients and vendors and to develop a great reputation. You must be intentional about getting yourself noticed.

The wonderful news?  That same executive became my personal champion.  He made sure I got exposure to senior executives, he made himself available to me when I had questions, he highlighted opportunities to me that he thought I might enjoy.  And, more importantly, I changed my behavior.  I stopped hanging out in the shadows… with my good work, sitting at my desk, head down.  Instead, I began to position myself for opportunities and to meet colleagues at every level of the company.  It was both fun and rewarding.

This scenario described above is all too common.  We must not get so caught up in the work that we lose sight of building both our personal brands and more meaningful relationships.  So, yes, work hard… deliver results… AND, also, establish and nurture relationships wherever you go.  It’s that final element that will help you achieve your goals.

9 thoughts on ““Keep Your Head Down and Work Hard”

  1. Do good, and get caught. If we do bad, we know we’ll get caught. This issue is rampant throughout the professions. Our educational systems teaches “field of dreams” — Be a great __________ (insert occupation). Be a great person. And good things will come. No. Not true. Be a great _____. Be a great person. And be sure to “get caught.” Appropriate personal brand-building is essential; pompous self promotion is not. Find the line, and be visible. Great advice, once again Alana. Thanks.

    1. Love that concept, Eric… get “caught” doing good! I remember when my son was little… one of the BEST pieces of advice I received from a friend was to catch him behaving well — and call him on it! Makes sense for adults/professionals, too. Appreciate your comments.

  2. Great advice Alana! I see this very frequently with colleagues in my profession…nursing. We are an awesome group, the most trusted profession! The core of our clinical practice is based on ‘nursing process’…which is actually a quality improvement process. It’s why nurses who transition to entrepreneurship do such a stellar job. I coach colleagues repeatedly about strategies for leveraging awareness of their great work. Thanks for sharing such quality content. I reference your book all the time when I speak or present webinars to nurses. :)

    1. Grateful for your input and support, Carol. Really love the fact that you can point to the importance of this type of positioning in a very specific profession — nursing! Thank you — and thank you for the important work you do.

  3. This is absolutely true. Keeping your head down and working hard is expected – this is gold:

    “In order to truly get noticed, it’s critical to build relationships at every level of the organization, to establish trust with clients and vendors and to develop a great reputation. You must be intentional about getting yourself noticed.”

    And this harder for a lot of people than sitting at your desk or computer and grinding away.

    Great advice and great post.

    1. Thanks, Courtney. You’re right… this is NOT easy stuff! It takes effort and intentionality. We must — MUST — get up and walk around, get out into the community, etc. in order to get to know others. The work is certainly part of it, but there has to be more. Appreciate your insights.

  4. A great message indeed, Alana!

    I pretty much was given the same advice at some point along the way in my career…but I never found the senior executive-type who “took me under his wing” and mentored me. It’s one of the reasons I kept moving…I never found someone who was interested enough in me (and I wasn’t smart enough back then to seek it out) to help me work my way up…

    Of course had I found someone like that, I may still be stuck in the corporate world vs. doing what I’ve been doing for the last 6 years!

    1. Right, Mic! It can certainly be a double-edged sword. Plus, if someone does not proactively take us under their wing, we may not be willing to ask for it. It takes courage, of course, and I encourage people to go for it! Likewise, I hope professionals in senior positions will take that extra step and reach out to and champion young up-and-comers. Thank you for your remarks.

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