If you do a Google search for how to self promote without sounding like you're bragging you'll get 2.5 MI+L hits. It's a big concern for both men and women with societal and cultural norms and biases forming part of this minefield.
It can be even tougher for women when it comes to self promotion, as you know. We're damned when we do, yet doomed when we don't. We want a career that really counts. We want to feel as though we are seen, heard AND valued, but it can sometimes feel like balancing on a knife edge.
Sometimes we even wonder why we bother.
Yet when we don't self promote we miss out on plum assignments, juicy salary increases or bonuses in line with our male peers and equally importantly, we miss out on being perceived as a serious C-suite contender.
Remember, our society confuses confidence with competence, and self promotion with confidence will help you not only get ahead, but be perceived as better at your role as well.
Over the years I’ve heard lots of reasons why people don’t self promote and I believe the following seven excuses will cost you $10's of $1000's in salary over the course of your career.
I just need to do great work - Remember the famous “build it and they will come” line from Kevin Costner's Field of Dreams? He had built a baseball stadium and people magically turned up from all over to attend simply because he built it. In a highly competitive job market, where we confuse confidence with competence, you simply cannot afford to assume that people will see the value or commercial application of your experience or expertise. Additionally, algorithms, short attention spans and rapidly changing technologies rule the world. It’s really hard to sell a secret, so you'll need to do far more than create a program, post something on LinkedIn, or just do great work. You also need to sell the value of the great work you do - ergo you need to self promote.
My results should speak for themselves - this is the most common expression I hear from busy executives who are beginning their self promotion journey. Nearly everyone has this inner mental script. "It's not fair. I shouldn't have to tell my boss about how well I did. They should see for themselves, because it's their job to manage me." Success will belong to those who can speak to their own results without sounding like they're bragging. In fact, success comes more easily to those who even do sound they’re bragging, than those who don’ t speak up at all. Start practicing now.
When I land a new role, I don’t need to self promote any more - another really common misconception. The most ambitious and successful women I work with know this. They keep self promoting even when they start a new role. In fact, even more so. They stay visible both inside and outside the business, but they change the balance towards heavier internal self promotion to help them fast track their success in the first 6 months, and lighter external self promotion to ensure people outside the organisation remember who they are. There is nothing worse than being buried in everything new with no room to do much more than survive, only to emerge after your first 6 months and find out that people have forgotten you exist. People are fickle, attention spans are short, and there is always someone hungrier. Stay visible people. Stay visible.
I don’t really need the credit or recognition - another really common excuse, particularly after someone has missed out on a payrise, promotion or recognition. Yes you do, because that's the currency of the organisation you work in. If you don't value yourself enough to claim credit, others won't either, and someone else may just take credit on your behalf. It’s a sign of healthy self respect to claim credit where credit is due. If you don’t respect yourself, others will also take you for granted. Once again, start practicing now.
I have to do this on my own - peer promotion is a great addition to your self promotion toolkit. And it really works for women because it doesn’t trigger reactions about socialised stereotype biases. It's GREAT to have others on your side who can fly the flag for brand you, reinforce your opinion or even remind others how great you are. It’s far easier for me to say out loud that “Michelle is a Rockstar”. It’s far harder for me to say that about myself. So build out a team of peers or others who are also interested in career advancement but not competing with you. Then help them to help you by providing them with evidence of your results and examples of what you do. Ask for references on LinkedIn, ask for positive feedback about your leadership brand. Your peers or others may just help you achieve Rockstar status without you having to sweat it out.
I've got great sponsors/mentors/champions so I'll be okay - I’ve written about this before and I can’t write about it enough because I see so many women who’ve hit a certain spot in their career, who have never had to self promote previously, and all of a sudden they don’t know how and it feels incredibly hard. Sponsors mentors and champions are great. Do what ever you can do ensure you have the backing of great sponsors, mentors and champions in addition to peers who support. But these people may resign, retire or are made redundant and then you are left hanging out to dry with no self promotion muscle, because you've never had to do it for yourself before. You do need to develop your own skills (in addition to having great sponsors mentors and champions) so you can carve out your own career path. As leadership expert, Avril Henry wisely says
"No-one is as interested in your career as you are. So do something about it!”
We imagine it’s “all about me “ - in fact, the most subtly powerful self promotion is very rarely all about me. Remember the line from ABC’s Kath and Kim - "Look at moi, look at moi, look at moi"? Unskillful self promoters, who we all try and avoid, make it all about them. Boring. And quite challenging. When we make it about the self, it’s far more likely you’ll become self conscious or worried you’ll appear self absorbed or self centred. Instead when you take the self out of self promotion and make it all about the problems you solve, the difference you make and the value you add, you'll do far better. Take it one step further and make sure that this is in service to others, and you'll be self promoting like a Rockstar within no time.
These excuses are really common. I should know. Because I say them to myself as well. And the best fix is to stay curious, keep learning and keep on self promoting until you get much better. Self promotion Rockstar status is not that far away!
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