In a peer coaching circle of director level participants in a financial services organization, one member raised the question about how to increase their credibility and presence when they entered a room with senior level executives. They were actively working to influence a career acceleration point. One member of the coaching circle responded by asking, “when you knocked on the door, did they know who you were?” Knocking on the door is not an uncommon metaphor for succession planning and the progression of high potentials and high performers to the next level and/or increased levels of responsibility.

Hopefully, knocking represents a metaphor of effective and productive efforts put into upward movement and role expansion that are fruitful and not a joke. The member’s question “when you knocked on the door” did however remind me of Knock-Knock jokes. As you may recall Knock-Knock jokes are framed with the simple opening line of “(Knock Knock) Who’s there?” Typically, the follow-up line is a name like: “Freddie”. Followed immediately with “Freddie who?”, and then a punchline like: “Freddie or not here I come!”

That exchange is probably the least desirable one to capture your efforts to accelerate the probability of gaining higher or expanded responsibility. Knock Knock?: Yes – knocking represents you taking the initiative to clearly signal to others you would like to come in the room. “Who’s there” – reasonable progress since any response to your knocking suggests you may in fact be knocking on the right door and whoever is behind the door is paying enough attention to notice someone is outside of it. “Freddie“—Progress still, since you seem to be clear about who you are, have packaged your presentation in a clear, confident manner that differentiates you from some other Jane Doe. “Freddie who?” —Warning! Make sure your antennae are up now because perhaps they do NOT know who you are, or weren’t expecting you. As in the Knock Knock joke, the punchline and reaction to it are soon to follow. It is a rather uncomfortable feeling to not get the reaction you expect. Ideally whoever answers the door is not “Freddie or not”. They are in fact “ready” for you.

How about a couple of alternate storylines? (Knock Knock). “Is that you Freddie?” And the door opens almost immediately. They actually know who you are! The peer coaching group I referred to, spent a significant amount of time talking about the importance of building your network, managing your brand, and equipping people in your network to advocate for you. As a group of Black American leaders, their discussion included the challenges of finding and leveraging effective mentors, sponsors, advocates, advisors and peers. They also wrestled with how to increase the probability that their managers would invest as much or more in developing their full capability as their managers were likely to overload their capacity in current roles. They feared that some managers were not inclined to move them into stretch roles based on potential but were clearly willing to keep expanding their responsibility even in “acting roles”, stretching and stressing their capacity. Even with this disparity, they were clear about the importance and challenge of getting decision makers and influencers to know who Freddie was.

(Knock Knock)-“Is that you?” Is a better story line than – “Who’s there?”

What is an even better storyline? (In the process of knocking) The door opens and someone says: “Come in Freddie. We have been waiting for you!”

What can you do to avoid your storyline of career development being a knock-knock joke?

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