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774: How to Make Yourself Promotable with Amii Barnard-Bahn

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Amii Barnard-Bahn shows you how to assess your unique strengths and opportunities to advance your career with her Promotability Index.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The five elements of the promotability index 
  2. The 4 steps to developing strategic thinking
  3. The one question to get the feedback that you need

About Amii

Amii is a former Fortune Global 50 executive and a current C-Suite consultant to global companies like Bank of the West, Adobe and The Gap. She’s been recognized by Forbes as one of the top coaches for legal and compliance executives. Amii also contributes to the Harvard Business Review, guest lectures at Stanford and UC Berkeley, and is a Fellow at the Harvard Institute of Coaching. She speaks regularly on workplace culture, leadership effectiveness and corporate governance. She is the creator of The Promotability Index® and author of the companion PI Guidebook. 

Amii earned her law degree from Georgetown University Law Center and her BA from Tufts. Amii is a lifelong diversity advocate who  testified for the successful passage of first laws in the U.S. requiring corporate boards to include women. 

Resources Mentioned

Amii Barnard-Bahn Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Amii, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Thank you. Thanks for inviting me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to talk about the promotability index but, first, I think we need to hear about your passion for opera.

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Yeah, I love it and it’s been something I’ve missed quite a bit, as you can imagine, over the last two years, and I think it’s kind of like heavy metal for grownups. So, I describe it for people who haven’t maybe been exposed. It’s a little bit of symphony. It’s a little bit of ballet. There’s a lot of singing. It’s costumes. It’s crazy plots and drama. It’s got a little bit of everything, and it’s usually over the top and has remarkable history for some of the older pieces but there’s a lot of new works that are being done. I’m on a board that specifically does a lot of really challenging, interesting cool stuff in really unusual locations. So, it’s bringing opera to the masses, so that’s been fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, fun. And I’ve always wondered, when it comes to opera, when they’re in other languages, you still love it? Or how does that work for you?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Two ways. One is supertitles has changed everything. They came in in the ‘80s. and so, I was just talking to a friend of mine who works at the San Francisco Opera, I stayed with him this weekend, and he reminded me that when supertitles, which were fought vociferously by all true artists, or in the early days, and then fought equally by people who said, “No, people don’t understand what they’re saying. This is impacting the performance. We need to make this accessible.”

Supertitles won out at least in the United States, and it changed everything for the performers. People started laughing at jokes. People started crying when people died. It was an entirely…the singers were just blown away because they’ve been used to performing and then polite clapping at the end. So, it was remarkable in that sense.

Some small houses may not always be able to afford them all over the world, so that’s where I keep the caveat. Sometimes I’ve gone to the opera, or some opera houses who are purists, they don’t believe in them. And, for me, that’s almost like going to a foreign film and kind of checking one part of my brain out for a little while, and watching visually and just enjoying and figuring out what’s happening without words, and understanding you don’t actually always need words to know what’s going on.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, now let’s talk about the promotability index. You are the creator. Tell us, what is it, who should use it, and how does it make things better?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Well, one of the healthiest things I think anybody can do for their career is to work on what’s under your control. And so, I created the promotability index based on all of my work as a former Fortune Global 50 executive, chief human resources executive, and attorney, and personally just kind of worked my way up to the top, and saw how people got promoted or fired or stuck or let go, and reverse-engineered it into five key elements, which I’m happy to talk about.

And so, I created an assessment first, which anybody can take, and I made it free on my website. Accessibility to moving up the ladder is one of my values, and it’s an 82-question assessment that can let you know how you’re doing on the five key elements. And then the five key elements are things that decision-makers use when they look at promoting or elevating people to higher levels in the company, or who they’re going to invest in as potential leaders.

And so, in my experience, the five key elements are self-awareness, external awareness, strategic thinking, executive presence, and thought leadership.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I’m excited to dig into each of these five. Maybe to start though, could you share is there a particular finding in your work and putting this together that has been particularly surprising to folks in terms of, “Huh, so that’s a big deal, eh?”

Amii Barnard-Bahn
I think people underestimate external awareness the most. I wrote a Harvard Business Review article on it, titled “Promotions Are Not Just About Your Credentials — They’re About Your Relationships,” because there comes a point in time in everyone’s career where their credentials, to a certain extent, become irrelevant, and I don’t think we’re told that very early on, certainly not when we’re paying grad student loans, potentially.

And it’s really a ticket to the game and it becomes about, “Can you work with people? Do they want to work with you?” You may ace your job but in terms of getting to the C suite, it’s going to depend on the mix of people, whether they trust and like and know you. And that can come as a real shock to some people around mid-career, and that’s often where people get stuck.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, yeah, I want to hear about this. Okay. So, can you share with us an example of someone who worked through some of the pieces of the promotability index and saw some really cool results from doing so?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Sure. Well, we know that promotions aren’t always fair or rational. I’m sure you can think of a couple of examples in your own life and anyone on the call. And so, of course, you need to be good at what you do but it’s relationships and working with other people that are going to get you that promotion. So, one client that I had about a year ago was an absolute rock star in terms of their performance in sales, and they were the number one salesperson of the year, which is a pretty objective criteria, selling stuff. You can measure that. Some jobs are harder to measure in terms of what you accomplish and your goals but sales are pretty straightforward.

This person was not getting promoted and they had been there several years, and was getting very frustrated at this. And then after working together for about six months in coaching, part of what I found out was that, two levels up, my client was being blocked for promotion because of a perception that he was a lone wolf and that he needed to be the star.

And so, all of his hard work that he was always putting in every day, day after day just going out there getting the client, hitting the numbers, but that actually was getting to a point where it was working against him because he wasn’t demonstrating in terms of external awareness. People were not seeing the other side of him, that he was a good mentor, that he cared about people, that he could lead a team, that he could achieve through others.

So, once I found out that that was the perception of him, we started working on those things, and he showed up very, very differently. And it wasn’t easy for him because he’d worked really hard to get where he’d gotten. To quote Marshall here, “What got you here won’t get you there.” So, the same behaviors that made him fairly successful as an independent contributor were holding him back from moving forward.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And I’m curious then, how does one get that gem of insight that, “Hey, a couple of levels above you, this is the perception of you”? I mean, did you just sort of go ask around? And what do you recommend for individuals who don’t have a coach to do that work for them?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
That’s a great question because I think he would’ve left. He’s very close to leaving and he was a superstar so that would’ve been a loss for the company. Three-sixty reviews are what they’re commonly called and it is going and asking around, is the casual way to put it. It’s confidential and coaches, or your internal HR department, may do it, and you get perceptions and themes together, and that is how I found that out for him, or he would not have known.

People don’t, unfortunately, feel comfortable giving people the feedback they need to improve most of the time. It’s very easy to say, “Oh, you did a great job, Pete, on that. That was awesome,” but it’s harder if it’s like, “Well, Pete, can I talk to you for a minute about how that meeting went? Got some feedback for you. You may or may not be open to that.”

If they may not want an argument, they may not have the time, they may fear conflict, they may not be very talented at giving feedback in a way that others can hear it. They may be too blunt. You may not trust them even if it’s true. There are so many things that can go wrong with feedback. So, having a trained coach or HR person can be great.

But I’ll tell you my number one tip if you don’t have a coach that you can get feedback that can help you if you think you’re stuck or if you just want to get better at your job. My number one tip is to ask your boss and/or a couple of other colleagues that are close to you that you trust, that will be direct with you, especially people that will be direct. Ask them, “What’s one thing I can do to be more effective in my job?” and just wait. The trick is to stay silent and not to say anything.

And 99% of the time, people will say, “Well, thank you for asking. Let me think for a minute.” They’ll say, “Well, one thing could be this.” You’re being very specific and you’re not asking them for the moon. That’s where people get in trouble, is they say, “Hey, how can I be better?” It’s too vague. So, if you’re really, really specific, usually people will pick one thing.

It might be a little thing, like, “In that meeting, you could’ve talked louder. I couldn’t hear you sometimes,” or, “You seem to not like X person and it’s stressful for the rest of us in the meeting. we don’t even know if it’s true that you don’t, but I don’t know if you’re aware, but you act a certain way with this,” and that can be helpful feedback.

The trick is not to get defensive, to thank the person for the feedback so that you can get it again, and then to act on it and circle back ideally, and say, “Hey, thanks so much for that feedback. I’ve been working on it, and I’d love to know if you’ve noticed. So, if you could catch me doing good, that’s great. If you catch me slipping back, privately tell me. That could really help me. I’d appreciate it.” So, that’s a great example if you’re a leader for your direct reports.

When my leaders have started doing this, it’s opened up more of a speak-up atmosphere where people feel more comfortable being vulnerable and getting better together. It could be a real bonding experience.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. That brings back memories at Bain. I remember we all had our professional development plans, and I go, “Hey, here’s what I’m working on, dah, dah, dah,” and I shared that with them. And then the manager said, “Okay, cool. And here’s what I’m working on,” and it was like, “What? This is eye-opening. Okay, cool. Thank you.” And it really does, it sets that vibe in a real positive way.

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Totally.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so then can you tell us the genesis of the promotability index? And when I hear the word index, I started thinking about research and validity. Do you have any of that stuff to share as well?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
I wanted to engage the creative and the positive side of development. Having been forced to you, there’s many, many types of instruments as an HR person and an employee, I found that most of them sucked all the joy out of career development, which should be an exciting thing, “What do I want to create? Who do I want to be? What do I want to learn?”

Think of yourself as a five-year-old kid and getting excited about learning new skills, and, “Okay, I’m not so good at this but that’s okay. I’m not going to hang my entire ego on that. I’m going to work on this kind of thing.” So, I did not make it a psychometric Harvard-validated assessment because I think there are plenty out there and I use those in my practice.

I wanted something that was easy for anybody to use and that, simultaneously, simply by considering or contemplating the question, raise the consciousness of people reading it, that, “Oh, that’s something that should be on my radar.” That’s something that people grade you on even if they’re not telling you that.

A lot of promotions, and having been in the room where it happens, it’s not obvious always who and what, who gets promoted and why. And so, I wanted to create greater access. I wanted to create a language that managers who otherwise might have difficulty actually pinpointing what it is that’s holding the person back. Sometimes managers just don’t…they know it when they see it but they don’t know how to articulate it. And so, I wanted to help with that as well.

Pete Mockaitis
I find that’s often true when I’m looking at writing, it’s like, “This is good. This is bad. But why?” And I’d really have to think for a while, and say, “Oh, okay. Okay. Structure, elements of style. These sentences are just kind of too long. They don’t need to be like that. Just kind of clunky and less clear,” or, “We’re using some vague language. I’d like to make that a little bit more real in terms of…” or, “That’s not interesting or exciting. I don’t think anyone cares about that thing. We need to hook it into what people are really after, what they value.”

But you’re right, it takes a lot of time sometimes for me to articulate why is something good or bad, or why is someone promotable or not promotable. And I got a kick out of doing it, the five categories, and then up to 82-sort of yes or no responses. It’s like, “Oh, maybe I don’t actually read news associated with my industry all that regularly. Huh, how about that?”

I mean, I learn a lot of stuff from a lot of people but it’s somewhat rare that I pull out the Association of Talent Development’s report on such and such, and that’d probably be a good thing to do, and we’re free to be promoted. Although, I guess if I’m the owner, promotion more so looks like my listeners and customers say, “This guy is super awesome. We should pay him more or hire more, refer more,” or whatever.

Amii Barnard-Bahn
It’s written around Fortune 500 companies since that’s where I’ve cut my teeth, and I’ve heard in my pilot testing and thousands of people have taken it now, even independent contractors or people who don’t manage others, that’s another thing that’s assumed in there. Just ignore those questions. My whole point is don’t get caught up in the score, and that’s why I made it 82 and not 100.

I didn’t want our little weird brains from college to be like, “Is that an A? Is that a letter B?” Like, no, no, no. I did a little scoring just to hijack the part of ourselves that is competitive with ourselves, but the whole idea is to be competitive with yourself. And the guidebook, the companion guidebook to the assessment, which I only wrote after clients asked me to, they said, “This is great. Now what? What else do you have?”

And I said, “What do you mean? Just work on the stuff that you didn’t check, whatever. Move towards what brings you joy, like what’s exciting to you that you didn’t check, that you’re like, ‘Oh, maybe I should be doing others. Maybe I should speak at my professional association events. Maybe I have something to say or write about.’” And some people wanted a book, so I wrote the book and that’s been out now for exactly one year, and that’s been fun and that’s generated a number of conversations, and given a lot of companies and groups that have adopted it a common language for this.

The ideal way to do it, I think, because in the performance review process can be really painful because most of it is a backward look. Most of it is, “Do you get a raise? Am I getting a promotion? How much money are you giving me? And what did you think of the work that I did?” Well, that’s all backwards. This is all intended to be, again, the creative look forward around, “Who do I want to be? Where do I wish I was better? What jobs are exciting to me now?” I believe in a growth mindset and that we can continually be learning, and continually are changing in terms of what our priorities, desires, needs might be.

And so, this is designed to kind of be a choose your own adventure kind of a book with your managers as a powerful way to do it because you can sit down and say, “Hey, these are the five things I think I could work on.” They might say, “Actually, I think you’re really good at that.” That’s happened too. There’d been some amazing conversations I had.

A colleague who adapted her case study is on my website, for her credit union, and the young woman had taken it, and said, “I don’t want to get promoted.” And about a third of the people that have taken it so far don’t want to be promoted, which is another great thing to know because then you just need to say, “Okay, how do I give them lateral assignments? How do I keep them engaged?” As a manager, it’s really helpful to know that, as opposed to people who do want to get promoted and might leave if they don’t feel like they’re moving forward. Different needs, different people.

And this young woman came back a week later, and said, “You know, I thought about it and I decided, after taking the promotability index, that I never thought about it before. I’m the first one in my family to go to college, like I just already felt like I’ve made it. I’m so lucky to have this job. But if you think I can do better, I’d be interested.” And they got into this wonderful, beautiful conversation, and I said, “Yeah, we’d completely support you. You need to do this. You need to work on this. And let’s do it together. Let’s take off and bite off a chunk every year.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Beautiful. All right. Well, let’s cover a big more depth here, the five elements. And could you give us perhaps a definition and maybe a top tip for boosting it? So, let’s roll through them.

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Yeah, okay. Well, so for self-awareness, it’s around knowing your why, knowing your how, knowing your what, really why you do what you do, how you show up, and what makes you special in terms of what you bring to the party in the organization. And so, it means knowing your values, motivators, and preferences would be a more technical way to describe it.

Usually, when a tip I would give you for self-awareness is if you’re unhappy or unsettled in your work, it’s often because your values are being challenged or are under stress. Now, big picture, that could mean a mismatch with the organization. Smaller picture, it could mean a conversation you had recently, a decision that’s been made by the company that you don’t agree with, but it’s helpful to know your values and think about it, in that way you can say, “Oh, okay, this is why I’m feeling the way I do,” and that’s just helpful because you may have the power to change it. You may realize it’s a really big deal, and it actually is a deal-breaker for you, and you might need to make some changes. So, that’s one on self-awareness, Pete, that I would share.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, any perspectives on the finest ways to zero in on what’s one’s core values are?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Well, I use deep assessments that get to it really quickly. If you don’t have that, I would think about what brings you joy, what brings you pain, how do you make your decisions. There are plenty of lists actually on the internet around these things, which is about 33. StrengthFinders is a very common one that’s used by some companies. It can be very helpful, and I believe they have a free version where you can get your top 10, and that can be a really good start.

Pete Mockaitis
And tell us, if we do have the access or the budget, what are the deep assessments you love?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
The one that I like best is the Hogan assessment, and it’s work-related and it’s been around for a very, very long time, and we leverage it in coaching to, let’s say, there’s something we find that your boss is saying, “You need to work on this,” and it’s not something that you’re really that motivated to do, like public speaking. Let’s say, he says, “I want you to present the next board report,” and that’s just something you’d rather kill yourself than do that.

We would look at your motivators, and, for example, let’s say you had a motivator for great performance and you’re a high achiever, we’d say, “Okay, Pete, I know you don’t like this but this is something that you need to do to achieve high performance. Your boss just basically said that. Let’s leverage your value there, high performance, that you’re high performing, high achieving, and then we’ll figure out how we’re going to get there.” But that would be your motivator to get around “I don’t want to.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, how about executive presence?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Executive presence has been thrown around a lot and I love a definition by Coqual that they created based on a study actually that divides executive presence up into three elements. The first element is gravitas, which is grace under pressure is one way of defining that. The second is presentation skills and communication. And the third is appearance. And they found that 70% of executive presence could be attributed to gravitas, meaning that you have some backbone, you take a stand when you need to, you’re calm in an emergency, people come to you for guidance and advice.

For presentation and communication skills, that was about 20%. So, being able to present well, to speak well, and enunciate, good eye contact, all those good things, no quirks or tics when you’re presenting, that kind of thing, ideally getting rid of those depending on your abilities. And then the last being appearance.

Appearances surprises people at being only 10%, and I would say appearance has a dwindling impact. I think when you first meet someone, appearance can be very impactful. It can either make or break a first impression. But as we know, appearances can also be deceiving. And so, over time, it fades, and I think gravitas and presentation skills and communication come to the forefront much more so.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a favorite approach to improving one’s gravitas?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Well, we find out the triggers that are preventing people from staying calm and centered in the times that they need them to be. There’s usually a pattern, and so we keep an acknowledgement journal of what’s happened over the prior week or two weeks, what’s triggering it. Is it a person? Is it an issue?  There’s usually circumstances or things that are happening around that time that are making you stress that then trigger you to act a certain way, which could be withdrawal, could be aggression, could be a number of reactions, could be caving when you really need to be taking a stand, things that may not serve you in the long run as a leader, depending on what the situation is.

So, once we figure out what the triggers are and you’re aware of them, then you can start making an active choice to choose differently and to choose what you know is the right thing to do, and it just takes practice.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I’m thinking about gravitas. If someone, so caving or freaking out, could you maybe give us a demonstration of a high gravitas and low gravitas response to, let’s say, that I am requesting budget for an important initiative, and they told me no, and I want it bad and it’s genuinely important, and I’m going to take a stand for it? So, low gravitas, that sounds like you’re craving, like, “Oh, okay,” or flipping out, like, “This is ridiculous. What are you thinking?” So, what would be a high gravitas response?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
You have your facts together because you already have your business case to begin with to make the request but you would say, “I appreciate costs are at an all-time high. I appreciate that we’re looking at everything. I’d like to reiterate that the reason for this request is X, and the benefits to the organization are Y. And it’s very important, because if we don’t do this, then the costs will be Z, and we’ll be actually paying more next year for the same thing if we don’t make that choice now.”

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Amii Barnard-Bahn
That would be an example. You stay in your rational brain. You’ve done your homework, I’m assuming that already, which wasn’t in this hypo, and you go back to your facts and, especially for a cost, an ask of a cost for money or raise. I have some videos on this. It’s very important how you ask, and you need to have your ducks in a row, and you need to have your data. You need to have thought it through and you need to have thought it through from the perspective of the person that you’re asking if you want the highest likelihood of getting a yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, then the thinking then is, in terms of promotability, that sort of persistence is not an annoyance; that would be a knock on promotability, like, “Oh, Amii is just not a team player. She just won’t let it go,” but rather it is a pro in terms of, “Hmm, Amii has really got this gravitas.”

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Right. And you just don’t make it a no, but you just hit on exactly you want to be thinking about what feeling…I always tell people this. For critical conversation, start with, the meeting is over, you’re walking out of the room, what do people think of you, what perception are you leaving behind because that’s what’s critical as a leader and will determine your future success as much as anything. And there’s a perception as, “Ugh, what a hothead!” or, “Oh, they don’t understand how this business works. They have no idea how we are just losing money hand-over-fist right now. Have they heard of the war? Have they heard of COVID?”

There are so many things that can go on in the room after you leave. You want them to say, “Okay. Well, that was a well-measured request. They did their research. They understand the financial situation and the crunch that we’re in. I’ll give them some snaps because they still went for it even though we said no, and they handled it with grace, and I won’t mind having that conversation with them the next time.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, now let’s hear about the next area – strategic thinking.

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Strategic thinking is an interesting one because I found, through my career, that it’s the hardest one to get without getting experience. It’s like when I first tried to get my first retail job, and they said, “Well, you’d have to have experience in retail,” and I was like, “But no one will give me that first job.” Strategic thinking is the same way. You need to have a certain amount of responsibility before an access to all the pieces of the puzzle in the business, to be able to think strategically, to understand how if you take this piece out, how that affects these other pieces, almost like a puzzle.

So, what I advise people for promotability is to, what’s really critical and what I’ve seen, is you need to be able to demonstrate to decision-makers that you are a strategic thinker. And the ways that you do that are visibly asking questions that are smart but not obnoxious questions. No one wants a show-off. But show that you’ve done your research.

There’s a way to ask a question, and there’s a way to ask a question that demonstrates that you’ve been thinking, that you’ve been reading up on your industry, that you have been maybe talking to others in your field, and that you know what is important and kind what’s hot now. That’s why I always advise people, as well as it gets into thought leadership, or some of the other ones, but thought leadership can help you with strategic thinking.

And I don’t know if you want to jump to that one, too, but strategic thinking, some people ask questions and they’re face-palm questions in a room. We used to all be in a room together, and they’d ask a question that, just by asking the question on its own, you could tell they’ve not done their research.

Pete Mockaitis
“Why don’t we just go viral?”

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you give us some examples?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Yeah, that they haven’t been talking to their peers, that they only care about their little silo, that they’re asking for X, and it’s clear it’s going to affect IT or HR or supply chain, and they didn’t have the meeting before the meeting to say, “Hey, is this cool with you? I’m going to propose this. I know this impacts you guys. Do you have the resources to help us? Or, what are you seeing? Is this a good idea? This is what we’d like to do in marketing. We’d like to market this. Is this okay? Have you checked it with legal before bringing it to the board?” That’s a classic one for like a new drug or clinical trial stuff, that kind of thing in some of the bio firms that I worked with.

So, checking in and demonstrating that you have seen the whole system, you’ve talked to the system, or you’re aware of the system and anything that could go sideways or impact it or that needs to be considered before you make a proposal or make a comment, question a colleague. That can make or break also not only how you’re viewed as a strategic thinker but relationships, which overly everything that you and I have been talking about today.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, then I guess if you’re just getting started with strategic thinking, what do you recommend as some of the first steps? Like, “I don’t even know what I don’t know. Like, it would not have occurred to me…”

Amii Barnard-Bahn
And that is where everybody starts.

Pete Mockaitis
“It would not have occurred to me to ask about the legal stuff.” And so, I don’t know, is there like a book, like Strategy 101, or just sort of like a process, like, “Okay, here’s the org chart, let’s think about finance, let’s think about marketing, let’s think about legal”? Or, how do you recommend we get started?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
There are books. There are ten million books on every business topic out there. But in terms of just how to start in a grassroots way, number one, just know how you make your money, how your business makes you money. Number two, understand how your function fits into that greater whole so that you know what piece of that makes the engine run. Third, read up on your industry. Fourth, join professional associations, get involved, educate yourself, steep yourself in the issues of the day for your business, for your organization.

Be ahead of the curve in terms of what’s coming down. Many businesses are being impacted by AI. If yours is one of them, you should know that and you should know whether that’s a positive or negative, and what chain reaction that’s expected to have five, ten years from now. Talk to your boss, find out what they read, how do they stay up to date.

Reach your 10-K if you’re a publicly traded company. 10-Ks have amazing information in there. If you’re required to disclose to the SEC in terms of the litigation that is pending, in terms of any other disclosures that are required, super helpful. Before I joined a company, that was always proud of my due diligence and I’m amazed at employees and execs that don’t necessarily always do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Or listen to the earnings calls if they’re publicly traded.

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Right. Oh, yeah, amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
Sometimes, even when I’m an investor, sometimes there is a unique level of boredom that I’d get from listening to earnings calls, and I think maybe it’s because that’s just the medium in terms of it’s not flashy TED Talks.

Amii Barnard-Bahn
They try. I think that they’re quite dry, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Nonetheless, dry but informative, like, “Okay, this is what’s really on the CEO’s mind and the CFO’s mind, and the stuff that they’re worried about, and that the investors are caring about, so now you know.” All right. And so, then we talked a bit about the external awareness. Anything else you want to add there?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Gosh, the question I gave earlier is a good one for external awareness, that “What one thing could I do that would make me more effective in my job?” Because when you’re asking someone else that, then you’re getting their perception of what would make you more effective at your job. You may not agree. You may think, “That’s a terrible idea,” but you don’t show it. There’s your opportunity to show gravitas and executive presence, and you say, “Thank you.”

And at least you know that that’s the perception they have of you. You may get some really great information from that, Pete. You might get information like, “Oh, my gosh, they think my job is this, but it’s really this. I need to step it up. And how am I going to do that? What data do I give to them? Where could they have gotten that impression? How often do I see them? Do I have enough time with them? Was it just one event? Did they hear it from someone else?”

The advantage to a lot of this is if you understand perceptions and, as one of my heroes, Carla Harris, says, “Perception is the co-pilot to reality.” If you know perception, you have an opportunity to change it. If you don’t know, it’s sitting out there as a potential blind spot, and those could be landmines that can kill your career over the long term if there are enough of them.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. Let’s hear about thought leadership now.

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Thought leadership is usually the last. If I had to put them in order, they’re overlapping and they’re each of the five key elements. But I would say that when people are the most senior in their careers is when they have, number one, the most to say, that’s particularly unique and interesting, and they have a little bit more time and more pressure to be unique, especially if they want to, say, go to a corporate board, do a lot of work with corporate boards and board governance. And often, after you finish an executive career, a great way to leverage your expertise is to serve on corporate boards after there’s no conflict of interests potentially for your industry.

So, thought leadership, you can start with baby steps. So, you can start again by being involved in your associations, your organizations. They always need content, Pete, so writing for a journal, I’ve got five of them back here that I write for on various legal and compliance and ethics and HR spheres. You can speak, they always need free content and speakers. You make great relationships that way, which are beneficial in terms of having a powerful network on so many levels. You can gain a mentor, you can gain a sponsor, you might find your next job, you might just find a great friend that loves what you do. So, thought leadership is around being known for your expertise both inside and outside your organization.

Some organizations are restrictive and conservative with how much they will let you share outside the organizations. If you’re in one of them, and those tend to be highly regulated organizations, like healthcare, pharma companies, things like that, then look for opportunities inside to lead a project that’s maybe outside your area, or to write for the intranet, or to be part of a white paper project on a potential initiative that’s being proposed. Those are ways.

But outside, if you don’t have a lot of restrictions, there are so much you can do. As you know, it’s never been easier to publish content. It costs nothing. You publish for free on the internet. And many, many people have become famous and known for that, and that increases your promotability because others know of you. You build an audience. You build a following. More information comes to you. It’s a generous terrarium, basically, that you’re creating of information. If you’re giving, inevitably you’re also getting. That’s what I found with contributing to organizations like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. And we had a podcast guest, Kirstin Berndt, who, she was in a completely different industry but she had a passion for airline baggage, which is a unique passion. And she just started a blog and I don’t think there were very many on the subject. And so, sure enough, she’s like, “Hey, here’s the latest lost baggage statistics from the airlines. This airline has really made some improvements probably based on their initiatives with X, Y, Z, dah, dah, dah.”

And so, sure enough, that made her very distinctive when the opportunity finally arose for her to interview for such a role, they’re like, “Okay. Well, nobody has this. Okay, yeah, you got the job.” So, it’s powerful.

Amii Barnard-Bahn
That’s great. That’s a great story.

Pete Mockaitis
Even for more junior levels. Okay. Cool. Well, tell me, anything else you really want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Just that I think everyone has the potential, if they’re willing to put in the work, to learn a new role, to get better at their existing role, to move ahead, and I hope that the promotability index has, in some small way, helped that, and there are a lot of other great resources out there as well. Not everyone has a mentor. Not everyone has a coach. Not everyone has a great boss or someone that’s helped them along the way.

And so, I would just encourage people to go for it regardless and to never assume that simply because you don’t have a strong start, that you can’t get there. We can think of many, many amazing entrepreneurs and successful people out there who have done it with nothing. And so, I would just want to be really positive and optimistic for all of your listeners out there.

Pete Mockaitis
And not to squash positivity and your optimism, but this does trigger something. If we’re in an environment where it seems like our manager is toxic or severely dislikes us, or the forces of meritocracy aren’t really operational, and that might be perception, that might be reality as their co-pilots, what do you recommend then? It’s like, “Hey, I’m doing the work. I’m making progress. No one seems to care or notice,” how do you think about when it’s time to exit versus persevere?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
I think that’s a great question and I’ve talked about it on several shows as well recently with the Great Resignation, and I think that’s when you decide whether you have the talk. And the talk, to me, depends on how financially comfortable you are with either taking a big risk or what your savings looks like. But having the talk is going to your manager and saying, or your leader and saying, “Hey, I’d really like this promotion. What are the chances? Or, what do I need to do? This is what I’ve been doing. I feel like I’m in sync but I’m still not there yet. What would the timeline be?”

And if they can’t really give you a committed answer, then you have to decide whether it’s time to leave. Now, sometimes people may say, “Okay, I don’t have quite so much money in the bank so I’m going to eat crow for a year, and I’m going to job search while I’m doing this.” Right now, over the past year at least, I don’t know if the window is closing a bit with return to work, but there has been an unprecedented opportunity to have those conversations and to negotiate with the powers that be around what the timeline looks like, what the job looks like.

If you love half your job and you don’t love the other half, can you trade? Can you morph it? There’s been a lot of great conversations that have been going on over the past year, I would say.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, now could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Sure. My favorite quote would be from Peter Drucker, which is, “You should not change yourself but create yourself.” That means build around your strengths and remove your bad habits.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
One recently, I’m always getting caught up in stuff that I then enjoy writing about, and one that I’ve been focused on lately is a study that we don’t like people who deliver bad news. We all know it as just “Shoot the messenger” implicitly. But for someone like me who works in corporate governance, corporate ethics, healthy workplace cultures, the implications of that are pretty severe.

And so, I’m fascinated how to reverse-engineer delivering bad news so to equip people who frequently have to deliver it so that they can be heard, that better decisions can be made so that people aren’t afraid of speaking up because, unfortunately, the universe is rife with situations and huge costs when people don’t speak up when they need to, when they know something important. And so, I’d like to try to help change that dynamic.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
The two that I’m sticking with right now are, one called BS Leadership by my friend and colleague and Stanford professor Jeffrey Pfeffer, which is just fascinating. I wished I had read it 20 years ago. And my fiction, I’m reading my favorite, one I think is by the greatest living author, Joyce Carol Oates, it’s The Accursed, based in Princeton at the turn of the 19th century.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
I dictate constantly both on my Mac and on my iPhone, and I have probably a thousand draft emails right now sitting in my computer. They’re snippets of ideas, ideas for articles, conversations, things I need to do, prep for you, for your podcast, prep for clients next week, or a really cool article I read that I want to share. I love that. And then in terms of literally a tool-tool, I use ClickUp with my assistant and my team to manage all the different projects and things that we have going on all the time in the cloud, so that’s been super helpful. That’s been a game changer.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you say dictation, is there a software you’re using?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
No, it’s literally Apple. I’m just pushing the button on the Mac. It’s the control button. You hit it twice, it starts typing out everything you say.

Pete Mockaitis
And is that sufficiently accurate?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Enough. I go back and I have to watch sometimes. I can’t speak too fast. It’s forced me to slow down a little. I can talk really fast, so it’s punished me for that. So, I’ve had to slow down and be like, “Okay, I’m dictating now. I need to speak more slowly so it gets handled correctly.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite habit?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Let’s see. Work or life?

Pete Mockaitis
Work.

Amii Barnard-Bahn
For work, I would say, at the end of each day, writing down my intention for the following morning, and then closing my door and having the ritual of being finished with work.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
The one that we talked about already a little bit was that at a certain point your credentials are irrelevant, and that it’s all about your relationships. That’s been a gamechanger for a lot of people. And then the other one that I’ll tell people that I think is important to keep in mind is that every job is temporary. And that if you think about it that way, you’ll think about your career. It really opens up a different way of thinking, I think, about what you’re doing day to day and what you want to be doing and where you want to be getting better and where you want to be focusing your precious attention.

Pete Mockaitis
And if folks want to get in touch or learn more, where would you point them?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
They are welcome to find me on my website, which is BarnardBahn.com. And also, to connect with me on LinkedIn, and I’m on Twitter @amiibb.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Yeah, I’d say get really good at receiving, giving, and acting on feedback.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Amii, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck and fun.

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Thank you. You, too, Pete.