I’m fortunate to have coached numerous senior-level women with considerable experience and expertise who have not gained the title or pay grade they deserve. They feel stuck and frustrated, watching others less capable advance in their careers. One key differentiator is self-promotion.
Now, these women recognize that modesty is not all it’s cracked up to be and self-promotion is a “necessary evil.” They have to do it to move into leadership positions.
A couple of common barriers exist. One relates to the concept of self-promotion and how people view it — particularly women, those from certain cultures and introverts. Another is not knowing how to promote oneself — especially with class and authenticity.
What does good self-promotion look like? Some people believe there’s a fine line between boastful arrogance and valid self-promotion. The reality is, these are poles apart. Effective “self-promotion contributes something to the conversation and to the people taking part in it,” says writer Peggy Klaus (registration required). It is a reciprocal relationship, rather than an imposition. Effective self-promoters don’t just self-aggrandize, regardless of the topic of conversation. They work their value into the conversational ﬂow with relevance and contribute by offering useful information that enriches the discussion and their relationships.
From Show-Off To Sharing
What words, images and feelings come to mind when you think of self-promotion?
Many of us hold fixed, negative views of self-promotion — as showing off, grandstanding, bragging or boasting. And we all know people whose self-promotion is so overdone it seems like braggadocio — downright annoying. And yet, these people succeed in their personal and professional lives, as if their profound self-belief convinces everyone, regardless of their actual performance. The skill of self-promotion apparently overrides competence. On the other hand, some people will do anything to avoid the limelight, for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately, they often lose out on well-deserved recognition.
Don’t think of yourself as fixed in a negative binary of “modest” or “boastful,” but rather able to slide along that spectrum. The skills of self-promotion are skills — and they can be learned.
Clearly, some people communicate their value and contribution in authentic and effective ways, and their message sits easily with others, rather than being browbeaten into them.
• Think of someone who communicates their value and worth in a way you admire.
• Who comes to mind?
• How do they do this?
• Which behaviors, actions or language can you replicate and practice yourself?
Rethink self-promotion as an opportunity to share what you can bring to the table: something valuable to others. Make a promise, and deliver on it. Drawing on your experiences, expertise, education and accomplishments provides an evidence base to support your story. This is especially useful to people who feel uncomfortable with self-promotion.
How can you communicate your value and promote yourself? First, commit to some well-timed, well-placed self-promotion.
Prepare. Start by reviewing your CV, LinkedIn profile, biography and elevator pitch. This reminder of your experience and accomplishments is critical for communicating them to others. Reviewing your successes also assuages any discomfort about speaking about yourself, since you are simply referring to experiences, expertise and accomplishments. Update your CV and profiles, making them positive, uplifting, active and energetic.
Equip your toolbox. Prepare your elevator pitch. This is a two- to three-sentence summary of yourself, making a great impression if you only had a few seconds (an elevator ride) to “sell” yourself. If you are stuck, or this is out of your comfort zone, start by listing your top three strengths and skills. Practice to ensure you can speak about these with ease and comfort.
Network. Leverage your networks. Meetings and discussions enable you to communicate your contribution and demonstrate your worth. Help others to promote you and market you as a valuable contact. Add value to your connections by taking on tasks and getting things done — concrete evidence of your worth.
Give credit where credit’s due. When given a compliment on a job well done, accept it graciously; this is no time for modesty. Acknowledge the importance of their praise. Secondly, people may take credit for your ideas, work and successes. Avoid this through self-promotion. Routinely inform people of your plans, actions and achievements in a variety of different contexts.
Think big and beyond. Informing your boss about your accomplishments is necessary but insufficient. You need to self-promote higher and wider, beyond your immediate circle of influence. Most research on career and leadership transitions states the importance of increasing your visibility beyond your organizational unit — so ensure that your superiors and colleagues in other departments or organizations are aware of you and your accomplishments. Participating in stretch assignments allows you to develop new skills, increase your visibility and gain exposure.
Read the room. Gauge the emotional temperature of the room. Check the mood. By exercising your emotional intelligence, you ensure that your self-promotion is well received. For example, if layoffs have just been announced in a meeting, don’t gush about your recent promotion. Timing is everything, and delivery is key. Choose your words wisely, avoiding pretentious or inaccessible language. Acronyms, long words and jargon people won’t understand create an us-and-them mentality. Avoid superlatives (“I am the best…,” “the greatest ever”) or over-the-top descriptions that risk putting people off. Use fairly simple language that everyone understands. You can still be passionate, friendly and enthusiastic; just bring people along with you, on your side.
Self-promotion is not bragging; it is enabling others to understand you, your work and how valuable you are to them. So, do them that favor — and reap the benefits.
This article originally previous appeared in Forbes.
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