A few years ago, British author John Lees asked that question to a number of managers, consultants, training specialists and business owners. Guess what was their number one response? It wasn't work harder or put in longer hours. It was simply, "be self-aware."

Employees who have a clear understanding of their employer's needs and how they are perceived are most likely to get promoted. Gaining self-awareness doesn't come naturally to most people. It requires work, discipline and asking yourself the tough questions.

These two ought to be at the top of your list:

1.1. Am I spending most (if not all) of my time on the things that matter most to my employer?

2.2. How am I truly perceived by the decision-makers in my organization?

Take a look at your schedule for this week. Would your department head or CEO agree with your priorities? If you're uncertain, try this simple test: circle the items on your calendar that directly impact or have the potential to impact your company's bottom line or strategic goals. According to Lees' research, people with more circles on their calendars are more likely to get noticed... and promoted.

Focusing on what's most important requires you jettison or delegate the small stuff. You also may have to learn to say "no."

And what about the next time you encounter a top executive? Will you talk about the latest movie blockbuster or mention how your team launched a new product or gained a competitive advantage in the marketplace?

Use these rare opportunities to talk about the "circles" on your schedule.

Learn more about being an effective leader by reading my 80+ free articles on executive leadership.

Author's Bio: 

Recognized as one of the top 50 leadership coaches in America, Joel Garfinkle has worked with many of the world’s top companies. As an executive coach, he’s written seven books, including Getting Ahead: Three Steps to Take Your Career to the Next Level. Learn more about being an effective leader by reading my free articles on leadership.