(continue from Part 1) As I mentioned, my mind gave me a simple answer to the question: "How can I strengthen my presence in the office while maintaining my integrity?"
The answer I got was to give myself a challenge. The challenge was that in every meeting that I attended going forward that year, I would ask two questions. It didn't matter what the questions were; However, I did have some rules about these questions: 1) I had to sincerely want to know the answer (I was not going to be fake); 2) I had to speak with confidence; and 3) I had to have good posture. This became my private challenge. I told no one.
The first meeting I attended after making this personal commitment was a HUGE meeting. The entire department was in the room to hear about the company picnic -- at least 50 people. I was a little nervous, but this meant my challenge was "just right." Enough to push me out of my comfort zone, but not too much that I would be paralyzed by it. I realized during the meeting that I didn't know when the picnic started (these were the days before email). So I walked into the center of the room and confidently asked, "when does the picnic begin?". Then I realized I wasn't clear on the parking situation. So I asked for clarification where to park for the picnic. Sweet! Goal reached. Okay, you may be thinking that this was nothing. But this was truly something for me. My former self would have realized I needed more information in this meeting and hoped someone else would ask. If no one else asked, I would have asked a friend in private after the meeting. Instead, I put myself out there and probably helped many others in the meeting that had the same questions. Also, without realizing it, I was getting experience speaking up in front of a large group.
I continued with my private goal. Every meeting I attended, no matter what, I had to ask at least two questions. The fascinating thing was how quickly this became natural for me. And, I was changing other behaviors without even thinking about it. For example, just because I knew I had to ask good questions, I had to pay better attention in these meetings. I suspect before I created this goal, I was day-dreaming in those meetings. Either that or I probably looked really bored--not a good look.
What's more, once I started the ball rolling with a question, people started to speak directly to me. I became one of the drivers of the meetings. Others in the office started to see me as someone with knowledge as I continued to prepare for each meeting with more questions to ask. The best part was that my confidence was growing with each meeting. People began to approach me outside of the meetings and I better understood where the bosses wanted our focus.
Within 6 months of that first meeting, my boss told me that her bosses were so impressed with how much I had grown and risen to the occasion. I was promoted and put on the fast track to become an Assistant Vice President. Who would have thought it all began with asking, "When does the company picnic begin?"