THE BLOG
04/16/2014 02:52 pm ET | Updated Jun 16, 2014

Marooned in Middle Management? Something Is Missing

Most of us have watched it happen in the workplace. There's a go-to person in the organization who gets everything done. Never misses a deadline, never forgets a detail, but never gets promoted into a senior position. Meanwhile, others break through to the next level. Leaders listen to them; subordinates recognize their authority. What do those people have that the other highly competent manager lacks? Some professionals become known as implementers rather than leaders, and they get pigeonholed as, what I refer to as, a Perpetual Doer. Organizations can't function without some Perpetual Doers who delight in making lists of tasks and marking them off. They do the work that propels the corporate machinery forward. They can see that their contributions are making a difference. And they are often quite surprised when they discover that their promising careers are suddenly stalled instead of speeding along in the fast lane.

It is hard to make a case against their achievements and sheer tenacity. These talented employees have frequently done everything asked of them, and they've done it well. And yet, they just don't seem to be good candidates for leadership at the next level. Something is definitely missing. In the corporate world, that missing ingredient is often referred to as executive presence. Most people recognize it when they see it, but quantifying it is almost impossible. People with executive presence are perceived as confident, influential and calmly, yet firmly, in charge. They can command attention in a room without saying a word, and they know how to accurately "read" the world around them (from political cues to their colleagues' emotions). They actively search for the inevitable blind spots and perception gaps that could potentially damage their professional reputations -- and they correct them. Essentially, these people possess the business "X factor."

Believe it or not, the somewhat-elusive skills collectively described as "executive presence" frequently represent the only difference between an outstanding professional who gets marooned in middle management and one who seems to effortlessly rise in the corporate power structure. So how can you start to change your reputation in the workplace, positioning yourself as someone who has that elusive business X factor? Here are a few specific strategies:

1. Take ownership of your career trajectory and map out a development plan for your professional progression.

• Craft a clear, compelling vision for your professional progression. Be sure to write it down.
• Enroll friends/colleagues/mentors in your pursuit to advance, and get their support along the way.
• Review your career/developmental goals often to keep you focused and inspired.
• Discover what will be required of you to move to the next level of your career.
• Set a target date to achieve your advancement goal.
• Block off time in your weekly schedule to work on your plan.
• Continually strive to develop your networking and presentation skills.

2. Seek input and guidance from those with whom you have a good relationship and who already exude executive presence. Watch closely to see how they handle different business situations.

3. Redefine your value -- first for yourself, then for others. What are your unique differentiators? What are the paint points and problems you most often solve for others? How are you equipped to handle new and emerging trends? Start thinking of yourself as a thought leader with a clear value proposition.

4. Seek additional opportunities outside your immediate role so you can showcase a broader range of skills. Volunteer to represent your company or department at the next conference, summit, or client briefing. Pushing yourself to step outside of your usual boundaries can help you gain more exposure, new networking opportunities, and valuable learning experiences.

I'd love to hear your thoughts about executive presence and the role it plays in your work environment.