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by Dorothy Leeds

Who gets ahead in today's complex corporate jungle? I interviewed a number of entrepreneurs and CEOs of major insurance companies and other corporations to get the answer to this question. Their answers were highly unique and varied, yet one that I heard over and over again was: the person who gets ahead knows how to make him or herself visible.

If you're going to rise to the top, you must be highly visible for the right reasons. There's a fine line between being visible and being arrogant, as there is between having a strong ego -- essential to any success -- and having an overblown one, which is destructive as well as offensive. On one hand, a certain degree of self-promotion is natural and even necessary. The person with a strong ego knows her own strengths. She's confident. She has a realistic idea of what she can accomplish, and she moves purposefully toward her goals.

The person with an overblown ego, on the other hand, is always climbing over others to gain recognition and needs to be continually patted on the back. Of course, every insurance company has its share of prima donnas; I'm sure you've run into someone who thinks he's a cut above the others and will do anything to draw attention to himself. If he has talent he may be tolerated. Yet, if he typically talks down to the people who work for him, he will certainly never become an effective manager or leader, and it's more likely that his showing off will get him shown to the door.

How can you get visibility in your company or industry without looking like an egomaniac? How can you be appreciated for your strengths and get the credit you deserve without spending all your time at it? You want to be visible -- but you want to be visible in the right way.

Increasing Your Visibility

The first thing you have to do is develop a strategy for increasing your visibility. If your aim is the top, you have to start very early with a well-chiseled image that you will present to the world. Your image should be a common thread that runs through everything you do. It should be apparent in your letters, memos, clothes, relationships; in short, every aspect of who you are.

Having this focus on yourself and your role will help you in all your responsibilities and job functions. It will help you perform your job with more imagination, flair, and effectiveness. Start by asking yourself:

"How do I want to be perceived as a person?"

"How do I want people to perceive my role in the company?"

"How do I want individuals (my boss, my staff, my clients) to perceive my relationship with them?"
"When I write a letter, a speech, a memo, or a presentation, what do I want the receiver to know (feel) about me?"

"How can my image help me to communicate and excel?"

Meetings: A Common Opportunity

Meetings are a perfect arena for you to show yourself. Surprisingly, many insurance executives overlook the opportunities meetings offer for increased visibility simply because there are so many of them that they are taken for granted. It takes leadership abilities to run meetings or give talks, lectures, or seminars. But these are all excellent ways of building a reputation.

Speaking at a meeting is entirely different from private conversation. It requires thought and preparation. A speaker may be well informed, but if she hasn't thought out exactly what she wants to say at a particular event and to a specific audience, she won't stand out.

It is imperative that you make the effort to learn how to speak effectively. Many fine speakers were shrinking violets when they started out. There are a lot of people with terrific ideas who have trouble explaining them to other people, but (as you know from reading this column every month) this need not be the case.

Examining how you perform at meetings, and then continually refining your technique is a good way to boost your campaign for greater visibility and success. Try these self questions after every big meeting:

"How well planned was my presentation and contribution?"

"Whose support could add clout to my next meeting?"

"How did I perform in the leadership role?"

"Did I exhibit power and control in a charismatic way?"
"If the CEO of the company had been there, how would he have evaluated my performance?"

"Did I enhance my image?"
"Did I ask smart questions?"
"Did I listen to the answers?"

If you are not the one presenting at a meeting, there are still ways to make yourself visible. At the close of a presentation, be sure to ask smart questions and engage in afterward discussion. These actions show others that you are a keen listener, have thought about what others have said, and are enthusiastic about the interests of your company. One of the things I always do when I attend a meeting or symposium is to decide beforehand that I will make at least one contribution. This forces me to really listen.

Beyond the Company

Outside of your company, it never hurts to be more active and promote yourself within the insurance industry. If there's an opportunity to deal with the press or to comment publicly on something you've achieved, grab it. On your own, take active roles in insurance associations and subscribe to and write for insurance newsletters. Join client associations to show your face to potential clients. For example, if you sell life insurance to mostly dentists, join a dental association. I knew an independent insurance agent whose entire marketing strategy was to join associations. He got all his referrals from these associations. Although his peers jealously deemed him "The Suspicious Member," he laughed all the way to the bank.

You can also improve your reputation among your clientele by keeping them updated with your accomplishments. You can always send out mailings to potential clients with copies of your articles. They will be impressed by the good rapport you build with them and it is likely that they refer their family, friends and acquaintances to you.

Whether you're an independent agent or a company executive, you will reap the benefits of a good reputation by increasing your visibility. In today's competitive market, high visibility is not a luxury for CEOs, top executives, and agents, but a necessity.

  Dorothy Leeds
  800 West End Ave.
  New York, NY   10025
  212.932.8364 (FAX)

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