Why it Pays to Self-Promote (aka The Tiara Is Not Coming)
This article is part of a series of blogs around the Five Behaviors Standing Between Women Leaders & Greater Success. This article dives deeper into Career Limiting Behavior #3: Eschewing Self-Promotion.
Kimberly*, one of my clients, is a brilliant fundraiser. Working many late nights and long weekends, she pulled off one of the most talked about events of the year. She secured an impressive number of celebrity guests for the event, landed her event on all the right social media channels, and blew through attendance and fundraising records.
When asked about the event, Kimberly did what most women leaders do: She noted the amazing, dedicated work of volunteers, donors, her leader and her team. She listed the names of committee leaders and co-chairs, and talked about the hard work of the Executive Director. In short, she celebrated the success of the event and the committees she managed, but failed to celebrate her role in the event's success.
For many women leaders, it can feel uncomfortable to "brag" about your accomplishments. The authors of How Women Rise note that some women report holding back on touting their accomplishments because it feels "braggadocios or tacky." Other women suffer from the tiara syndrome (noted by Sheryl Sandberg in Lean In), a clever name for the action of waiting around for someone (usually your boss) to spontaneously recognize you for a job well done.
These reactions exist for a host of complex reasons, some of which I cover in this blog. Regardless of the reason, the result is the same: Brilliant, talented women are working very hard and accomplishing great things - but not telling people in power. They are falling into Career Limiting Behavior #3: Eschewing Self-Promotion.
Making the Case for Self-Promotion
Much like self-advocacy, if you don't do it, no one else will. If you want your boss to really understand your value, what better way than to literally outline it for him or her?
>>Said simply: You are a brand. And, you need to be a strong brand manager!
Need one more reason? Men are typically pretty good at self-promotion, probably in part because society expects it from men. So, you should expect that men are clearly listing their value and accomplishments to their superiors during performance reviews or regular one-on-one meetings. If you want to play the game and get ahead, you have to compete on the playing field we currently have in front of us.
Self-Promotion That Works
The goal here is to promote yourself while staying true to yourself. No need to thump your chest and emulate the braggadocios behaviors of peers that sound simply obnoxious. Try out a few of these suggestions:
1. Keep a Success List
Open a Word document, save it to your desktop and start typing. List out every contribution you have made to the organization over the past year or so. For now, you want to list everything you can think of - small and large accomplishments. Be specific and quantifiable. For example, you can list: "secured ABC client valued at $500,000 in Fy2019" or "launched employee engagement program on 9/1/18 to 5,600 employees."
The goal here is to keep this as a "living document" that you can open and add to at least monthly. To make it happen, schedule time on your calendar on the first or the last day of every month. Every time you have a win - of any size - note it in your document. Then, when it comes time to ask for a raise or promotion, you have a lengthy list that demonstrates your value.
2. In One-on-Ones, Just Say Thank You.
I was taught a good self-promotion rule nearly 20 years ago by a powerful woman mentor: If someone pays you a compliment, just say "thank you." Don't be self-deprecating or deflect the compliment. Just say "thank you."
So, if your COO comes by and says "nice job on that project rollout," DO NOT go into communal mode and start listing off everyone that helped. Just say "thank you." Nothing more is expected and no one else needs to mentioned in this setting - just use the manners your mother taught you and say "thank you."
3. In Public, Mention the Group AND Yourself
Workplace expectations on the behavior of women make public recognition of our efforts more challenging. Being too boastful about an accomplishment may be seen in a negative light in some organizations. So, walk the line.
It is appropriate for you to note that you worked hard on a project or spent long hours investing in an outcome - and mention that others helped. The goal here is to do both.
Going back to the story about my client, Kimberly was right to recognize the work of her donors, peers, leader, volunteers and committee members in public settings. Without each of their contributions, the event would have failed. Where she missed the mark was not mentioning her role at all. Kimberly could have added "I am so proud of the results of the event. I worked very hard to make the event a success. And, so did many other people... (insert additional people here).
4. Leverage Guilt By Association
More and more large organizations are moving to platforms like Salesforce Chatter or Slack to keep people up to date on projects. One tactic that has worked well for some of my clients is to determine how to successfully use those tools to promote their work.
For example, a COO client was leading the launch of a new service line at her organization. A few times each month, she reported on the status of the launch and continued to talk about the leads it generated after launch. The posts were informative in nature and celebrated the work of others. They also celebrated her work through her association (aka leadership) of the project. This was a subtle way to talk about something interesting and relevant, but also promote the fact that the department (and the leader) was doing great work.
5. Forward Kudos to Your Boss
You just landed a big account and your new client sent you an email to tell you how well the pitch went. If they did not copy your boss on the email, WASTE NO TIME and send that message on to your boss. Feeling a bit nervous about leaning that far in, then give the note some context by saying "I was excited to receive this message and thought you would want to join me in celebrating the new business."
6. Don't Wait on the Tiara.
One of the best habits you can form is including a bit of self-promotion in your regular meeting with your boss. If you have an agenda for your one-on-ones (always a good idea), you can include a section called "Success/Celebration." In this section, you can list out key projects launched, milestones met, widgets sold, etc. - whatever you need your boss to know that YOU are accomplishing. By creating space for this information each meeting, you can begin to build the habit of self-promotion.
Take it from a 20-year veteran marketer, you are your own best marketing and PR department. So get out there and start telling your our success stories!
*not her real name of course.
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