As leaders, we can feel too visible–both when things go wrong (and people seek someone to blame) and when things go well (and people want to give us too much credit). More often, though, we don’t feel visible enough. We feel like we’re not getting the attention we deserve or expect–from our coworkers, families and friends, or the public.
Leaders tend to want to be seen. They’re the ones on camera, in the headlines, and on the dais. They seek out these opportunities to showcase their abilities, achievements, and organizations. Growing up, I sought opportunities to be seen–proof that I existed, that I mattered, and that I would be remembered. I found that asking great questions helped me get and hold the attention of others. I figured doing well in school would get others to pay attention, too. It did, but not as much as I imagined it would. Later, when I grew a company from two to 2,200 employees, I figured that would surely get me noticed. There are, after all, 10 million businesses in the US and only 5,000 employ that many people. I did get press and recognition, but I still felt relatively invisible. I later wrote a book for McGraw-Hill and went on the speaking circuit, and still the feelings of invisibility remained.
My sight-lines and goals have since changed. I still seek to be seen, but it’s by the people right in front of me–my coaching clients, family, and friends–not the people I can’t see. I’m happier as a result. And I feel like I’m better at seeing others now that my focus is up close, not on the horizon.
“I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”—Ralph Ellison, author of Invisible Man
Instead of focusing on being seen, focus more on who and what you choose to see. Seeing is a choice. Who are you choosing to see? Who are you not seeing?
The more you see the people right in front of you (and asking great questions is proof that you are, in fact, seeing them), the happier you’ll be and the happier you’ll make them.