You're not sure if others see your leadership potential at work, and you don't know why. You work hard. You have the skills. You follow the rules, but you still haven't been recognized for your contributions. You're still waiting in the wings for a promotion or that big break, and are getting more frustrated by the day-so frustrated you might even have started to look around at other options.

Unfortunately, conversations with your managers and mentors aren't helping much. You hear things like, "You're doing great, but the time isn't quite right" or "We'll know it when you're ready." Too often, you leave those conversations more confused about what you have to do to advance than when you came in.

The traditional advice offered to ambitious employees is to flawlessly execute your current job while starting to perform functions at the next level. While that is solid advice, there is something even more important that is often overlooked. And it's about what you say, and especially what you say in front of a group in meetings.

Consider how you can contribute more (and often strategically) during your next meeting with these sentence starters.

  1. Ground initiatives in the strategic plan. "Let's think about how this ties back to our strategic goals for the year. I see a direct connection between project No. 1 and our key goal, but I am unclear about why we're considering project No. 2."
  2. Introduce industry perspectives. "I read a great how-to article (on Inc.com!) the other day that suggested these three steps ... I'll share it after the meeting."
  3. Ask questions to draw out views from others in the room. "Hey, we haven't heard from recruiting yet. What do you think?"
  4. Act as a responsible steward for the business. "A number of risks are coming to mind. Let's talk through how we might mitigate the impact of this project failing."
  5. Think long term about building organizational expertise. "We gained some important lessons learned during the development of this product. We should be sure to capture those and share them with others across the organization."

Here also are the types of comments to avoid at all costs.

  1. Piling on examples of problems without advancing the conversation with a solution. Unless you're specifically asked for another example, let the point stand and focus on moving the conversation to discussing a proposed solution.
  2. Bashing any individual or group not present in the meeting. This sort of behavior is catty and cowardly, and only causes other participants to be concerned about what you say behind their backs.
  3. Any mutterings under your breath or side comments to your neighbor. If you have something to contribute, be bold and speak up to the entire group. Share any concerns with confidence and conviction.

Why are the right kinds of meeting contributions so important? Meetings are when teammates, senior leaders, and clients are exposed to your ideas. That's obvious. However, what might not be so obvious is the importance of those interactions to how people perceive you, your strengths, and your future potential. What you choose to focus on with limited "air time" in meetings is a signal to all about what you think is important.

I've been so fortunate to work with some of the smartest, most hardworking people in my career. But I watch them shoot themselves in the foot time and again-specifically in meetings. In the spirit of total transparency, I've seen myself do this many times as well. How we speak up and contribute in meetings can accelerate or delay career advancement.

By choosing your words thoughtfully, you can change and enhance people's perceptions of you and move them toward the belief that you think strategically, are industry savvy, have your finger on the pulse of client needs, and are mission-oriented. Contributing this way is simple, but it does require a little preparation-and a lot of discipline.

2016 will be a great year to get the recognition and promotion you deserve. Accelerate your career and earn your next promotion by simply changing what you say in meetings. For more on how to change perceptions at work, check out Carolyn O'Hara's article "You Really Can Change Your Reputation at Work" or this piece from my blog on tailoring messages for maximum impact.