No, I’m not blogging about the rapacious effects of sexism today. That’s not the kind of “thing” I’m talking about…

I am talking about the kind of “Thing” that can put you on the leadership map when you find yourself languishing somewhere off the page. Sometimes, even the most effective leaders feel as if their efforts go unnoticed. They fight the good battle yet receive minimal recognition for the value they deliver to their companies. Sometimes, their good ideas can even take on a life of their own, leaving the authors behind in the dust. If you find yourself identifying with such a predicament, my recommendation is that you get a “Thing.”

While Lao Tzu was enlightened enough to understand that “When the sage leads the people to victory, they say, ‘We did it ourselves!’” the rest of us may need a little dose of acknowledgement from time to time. Well, I do anyway. A “Thing” can provide you with just that dose. So, what’s a “Thing?” A “Thing” is an idea that people unmistakably identify with you. It’s a symbolic indicator of your value.

“Things” come in at least three varieties:

  • Your “Thing” might be an area in which you have some functional expertise. I worked with a guy once whose undisputed “Thing” was web marketing. He shared this expertise at any meeting he attended and found ways to make meaningful intellectual connections between his “Thing” and the work of his colleagues. These connections brought him and his “Thing” to the forefront of many conversations.
  • Your “Thing” might also be an esteemed organizational value. I had the chance to observe a manager once whose “Thing” was efficiency, a value his company held very dearly. Every single utterance from this manager’s mouth, every idea he proposed, every argument he launched, and every change he instituted were all in the name of efficiency. So much so, in fact, that he quickly became known as the “efficiency guy” throughout his company.
  • In rare cases, your “Thing” might also be your persona (the way people experience you as a leader). I’ve had the privilege of seeing a few leaders who have enough charisma to charm the hairnets off a group of fast food workers. Such leaders gain visibility for the ways in which their public presence motivates and/or inspires others.

The difference between merely having something you’re good at and having a “Thing” is the extent to and means by which you position it. To have a “Thing” you have to a) discover something you’re passionate about and b) communicate that passion strategically and often. Experience tells me that this will get you visibility, if that’s what you crave. To fully leverage your “Thing” however, you must be willing to follow through (behaviorally) on the promises you make (communicatively).

I’ve got to go now . . . I just realized I don’t have a “Thing.”

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