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Scott Eblin offers his take on lessons in the news and his advice on your pressing leadership questions.

3 Ways to (Finally) Get Recognized

Fun. at the 2013 Grammy Awards. Fun. at the 2013 Grammy Awards. John Shearer/Invision/AP

So, my first blog post of last week would likely have been something that caught my eyes and ears during the Grammy Awards but then the Pope decided to break with 600 years of tradition and retired. That seemed like a bigger story than the Grammy Awards so I went with the Pope.

Still, there was a particular moment from the Grammys that has stuck with me that, I think, provides a lesson for leaders who aren’t feeling particularly appreciated.

The best new artist of the year at the Grammys was a band called Fun. When they stepped up to the mic to accept their award, the lead singer expressed their appreciation and then talked about how they had been together for twelve years and, after all that time, it was nice to be recognized for their work.

Yeah, that’s right. Fun has been performing together for twelve years and they just won the Grammy for best new artist of the year.

Ever feel like you’ve been bringing it night after night after night and nobody’s noticed? That’s probably how Fun felt. And now, they’re the best new artist of the year.

What does it take to hang in there with no particular hope of being recognized for what you’re bringing to the table? There are probably a lot of answers to that question. With the hope that they provide some encouragement to leaders who are plugging along without much in the way of positive feedback, here are three of my answers to that question:

1.  Don’t quit.  What if Fun had hung it up after their sixth or seventh year of performing? Simple answer – they wouldn’t be the best new artist of 2013. When you quit, you don’t get to see what’s going to happen down the road.  Do you believe in what you’re doing?  Good – don’t quit.

2.  Practice.  A couple of years ago, I wrote a post (and recorded a video) on Geoff Colvin’s book Talent is Overrated. Much as Malcolm Gladwell did in Outliers, Colvin cites a ton of research that suggests that the greatest in their fields log at least 10,000 hours of practice before most people recognize them as great. I wonder how many hours of practice Fun got in before they won their Grammy award?  I’ll bet it was more than 10,000. Keep working at your craft. You’ll get better and it will pay off.

3.  Get Slightly Famous.  A few years ago, I took a look at a book called Get Slightly Famous. Honestly, everything you need to know from the book is in the title. Its point was you don’t need to be famous at an Oprah level to be successful. You only need to be famous to the people you need to be famous to.  Let’s get real – had you heard of Fun before you read this post? Maybe not. Fun is not necessarily famous to the whole world, but they’re famous to the people who vote on the Grammy Awards.

What’s the lesson for leaders in this point?  As I wrote here last year, the work doesn’t speak for itself, you have to speak for the work. That doesn’t mean jumping up and down saying, “Hey, look at me!”  That just annoys people. Rather, it simply means letting people who have a stake or an interest in what you’re doing know what you’re doing. Don’t worry about being totally famous; slightly famous works.

What’s your take? What do you do to keep moving forward when you feel like you’re not making that much progress?

Executive coach Scott Eblin’s goal is to help you succeed at the next level of leadership. Throughout the week, he’ll offer his take on the leadership lessons in the news and his advice on your most pressing leadership questions. A former government executive, Scott is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and is the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

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