You may have to check your impulse to shy away from what may have seemed non-essential aspects of your career
The Great Resignation and the ongoing flood of colleagues leaving the office chair next to us empty have left us with some doubts: Am I satisfied with my current job? Could I feel more recognized and fulfilled somewhere else?
If you’ve ever felt underappreciated, even as you work to go the extra mile, there’s a good chance you belong to a category of employees who rarely make it onto managers’ radars despite being mega talented: the “silent stars’. These unsung heroes often ensure success for their teams without visibly seeking recognition. As invaluable as they are underappreciated, silent stars are often self-starters, willing to take on less visible or even thankless tasks. But that doesn’t mean they revel in their anonymity.
You may be one of them and halfway out the door. Perhaps you’re still perplexed by how you managed to remain invisible even though you excelled; or by how you never grasped an opportunity to climb the corporate ladder. That said, you’re not alone. Many of those employees who recently quit believed their opportunities for advancement were limited (63 per cent) or perceived little respect at work (57 per cent). Organizations everywhere are on the brink of losing silent stars like you: team members who have long cared more about doing good work than advocating for their interests.
It’s time for silent stars among us to consider your value, your own needs, and how a new mindset will help you meet them.
Am I a “Silent Star’?
If you are what I call a “silent star’, you’ve likely never thought of yourself in these terms. It could be that – perhaps to your credit – you’ve paid more attention to the task at hand than assessing how you fit into the office hierarchy (and your role within it). But job fulfilment is everything, and self-assessment is an important step along that path.
Silent stars are core team members who don’t concern themselves with publicizing their wins, or who by nature refrain from identifying themselves. They are not, however, content with anonymity, and the lack of recognition can lead even the best and brightest to disengage. Oftentimes these silent stars don’t seek to follow a conventional path up the company ladder. They don’t, in other words, “play the game,’ even when they have ambitions for career growth.
In my experience, these all-important contributors can be further broken down into two groups. “Rock stars’ are independent-minded team members consistently doing great work with almost no oversight. They’re the ones that colleagues turn to for help, and when they need to, be certain something will get done well. For rock stars, fulfilment is much less about career advancement and more about acknowledgment and encouragement. If you’re a rock star, you’re likely silently hoping for more public praise, whether through employee recognition programs, positive feedback on calls and emails, or even bonuses.
“Rising stars,’ on the other hand, are equally talented and equally reliable but stand apart for their eagerness, speedy turnaround times, and their desire for recognition and career advancement. Rising stars are also hoping for the chance to engage with the higher-ups, and to receive acknowledgment in the presence of executives. If you’re a rising star, finding opportunities for growth is essential to keeping you engaged.
Both types of silent stars are often overlooked or even taken for granted. And with remote work models only encouraging the tendency to neglect silent stars, steps should be taken to keep these hidden gems engaged and happy.
Silent Stars, Speak Up
Whereas there’s a great deal on what managers should be doing to connect with their low-profile overachievers, silent stars will do themselves (and their organizations) a great service by taking charge and actively making sure their needs as employees are fulfilled.
To start, if recognition is crucial to keeping you locked-in and gratified, resist your tendency to stay passive in hopes of receiving it. If tooting your own horn doesn’t come naturally, praising others around you can serve as a great workaround. By recognizing those you work with, you’ll cultivate a culture of mutual recognition and encourage co-workers to sing your praises in turn.
Another important means of getting your share of the limelight is committing yourself to take risks. Utilize your knack as a self-starter and your autonomy by acting as a leader and flexing your muscles. Whether this means suggesting and/or undertaking new projects, implementing new strategies, or mentoring new team members, take ownership where appropriate and experiment. Perhaps counterintuitively, embracing your autonomy and taking the risk of going it alone will help you get noticed.
In taking such initiative, you should also ensure that you’re drawing the attention of leadership by frequently sharing your ongoing projects and results with your team and supervisors. Sharing insights you’ve gained through new projects can be especially helpful for garnering praise.
At the same time, supplement this reporting with hard evidence of your role as a leader and influencer among your peers. There are a number of new tools that assess a team’s communications to find which employee others regularly go to for guidance. Log these informal interactions and find ways to get this data in front of your supervisors.
As a silent star, and especially as a rock star, acknowledgment is both elusive and essential. Rather than giving up, try to take steps to earn what you deserve.
The Ladder’s Yours to Climb
For rising stars, taking stock of how much you’ve advanced in your career may be quite discouraging. You’ve consistently overachieved and yet may feel you have little to show for it. With time, this severs the connection you have with the work you do.
When rising stars don’t climb the ladder, it’s frequently because they’ve misunderstood how it’s done. In their eyes, one’s dedication to doing fantastic work will inevitably come to light; it’s only a matter of time.
The first step toward getting unstuck is to unlearn this assumption. Sooner or later, you’ve got to learn to navigate the career landscape. So, start with the basics.
Rising stars should take the time to draft out short and long-term goals and how they aim to achieve them. Everything starts with a plan, and if you’ve never formally mapped goals for your career, consider using the SMART framework. Once you have them, don’t hesitate to show these aims to your managers. Better yet, ask for their advice on what sort of metrics you might use to measure your progress.
You’ll need to consider what skills and qualifications you need to obtain these goals. There are many online courses today – whether it’s a marketing certification or cloud technology course – and rising stars should not be afraid to jump into the deep end. Take these skills from the theoretical realm to the practical by identifying opportunities within the company to put them into practice.
Mentorships are also extremely beneficial, especially for those with instincts towards being a heads-down, self-starter. Mentors who’ve made the gains you aspire to can help explain the path forward and reinforce your commitment to all the advice this article has offered.
Again, seek out your manager as you seek a mentor. Getting them involved is one more way of drawing their attention, and they can likely help point you to possible mentors within the organization. Let them know you’re very interested in the chance to shadow current leaders and in Q&A moments with higher-ups.
Finally, as you commit yourself to tried-and-true steps along a path towards career advancement, make sure you’re plenty visible as you progress along! Do the opposite of flying below the radar – attend conferences, start your own blog, or engage with thought leaders through social media. By being seen and heard in the right places, you’ll cultivate your own “executive presence,’ further taking ownership of your career path.
Be Heard, Be Fulfilled
So many of us hold fast to the idea that with hard work – and only hard work – good things will come. In today’s office, however, that’s not always the whole story.
While appreciating that such a strong work ethic is a huge part of what makes them exceptional, silent stars must understand the limits of that mentality. If you seek fulfillment in your career, you’ll ultimately have to learn the ins and outs of getting recognized and advancing in your career.
In other words, you may have to check your impulse to shy away from what may have seemed non-essential aspects of your career. And as you do so, you may find that the right fit for you is actually within your current organization. Luckily for your company, you’ll have saved them the trouble of losing an irreplaceable teammate.