Career Guide

4 Reasons why great leaders get overlooked

No recognition despite all your best efforts? Hereís whatís going on

There you are: battling away month after month in difficult surroundings, giving it your all (or nearly your all), saving everyone elseís hides, thinking so far outside the box that the box is barely visible, delivering added value faster than a speeding train. . .basically, youíre laying waste to every leadership metaphor there is.

And yet, despite all your best efforts, you might as well be working down a coal mine for all the recognition you get. Ever felt that way?

Despairing that your obvious talents are going to waste Ė or at least are not being recognised? Fearful that the time and effort youíre putting in isnít yielding the leadership recognition that youíd hoped for?

The good news is, youíre not alone. I meet similarly frustrated leaders all the time. The bad news is, youíre not alone. Your first challenge is to distinguish yourself from them.

If it feels like your leadership efforts arenít resulting in the recognition you deserve, run down this list of possible reasons. I guarantee itíll save you a lot of time, and will point the best way out of your current dead end:

1 Youíre not as good as you think you are.

Yes, it happens. Maybe you arrived at the organisation with an inflated sense of your own ability. Maybe your helicopter parents convinced you that you can do no wrong. Maybe youíve never really played in the big leagues until now.

Whatever the underlying cause (and there are many), the most common reason I see leaders get frustrated by lack of recognition is that theyíre simply not as competent at leadership as their self-image leads them to believe.

Hereís the easiest way to test that this might be the case: Ask your boss what you need to do to get a promotion.

If she gives you one or two specific, precise pieces of feedback, youíre fine. If she looks away, blushes, chokes or changes the subject, youíre probably in this camp.

How do you fix it? Well, you could start by asking to undergo a 360 assessment. Make sure that you choose a wide range of people as raters, including people you donít naturally like or get on well with.

Then find a mentor or coach to help you work with the opportunities (we used to call them ďweaknessesĒ until it became politically incorrect to do so, but thatís what they are, all the same).

2 Your company doesnít value leadership skills.

Letís assume youíre not in the first category and that you actually are a good leader. In that case there are only two possibilities as to why youíre not receiving the recognition you deserve.

The first possibility is that your organisation quite simply doesnít value leadership, full stop. Youíll know if this is the case. Youíll see it in a lack of innovation and creativity; thereíll be a lack of a challenge function at higher levels of leadership, and youíll probably have noticed that good leaders donít hang around too long.

The solution? Get out. Thereís nowhere to go in an organisation that doesnít value leadership, and thereís no point kidding yourself that the culture is going to someday change. It wonít.

3 What youíve achieved doesnít align with your organisationís goals.

If you are in fact a strong leader, but arenít receiving the recognition you deserve, the second possibility is that what youíre achieving doesnít align with the organisationís core goals.

I see it regularly: A hot-shot executive knocks a couple of projects out of the park, then wonders why no plaudits appear. The reason is usually that the projects in question arenít central to the organisationís core goals, and are therefore perceived only in the C-suites peripheral vision, if at all?

Get closer to the core. Volunteer for projects that are plumb in the middle of the organisationís strategic interests. Ask for a transfer to a more central department or division.

Find ways to connect what youíre doing to key functions in the company. If you canít get transferred to the software division, or the warehouse, or the manufacturing floor Ė wherever the pulse of your organisation beats, at least connect what you do to them, as much as possible.

4 Youíre not actually leading.

One final thought. Donít allow yourself the luxury of thinking youíre not getting the recognition you need because your boss is stealing all your glory. Leaders donít get overshadowed, only managers do.

If someone is stealing your glory, itís precisely because youíre not leading, youíre managing.

Les McKeown is the CEO of Predictable Success, a leading adviser on accelerated business growth. He has started more than 40 companies and guided hundreds more worldwide. McKeown has identified the four leadership styles needed for scalable success. To get in touch with him, e-mail us at

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