Need more signs that the economy is moving toward full recovery? Not
only are traditional indicators such as valuations in the capital
markets and levels of hiring trending upward, the positively personal
ones are rising, too. We’re getting more and more queries from clients
who ask, “How can I get myself more noticed?”
Not too long ago, some of these same folks were asking how they could
lay low so they might keep their jobs. Now with the economy heating up,
executives are on the make. People are looking to move up or out and
are seeking advice for the best way to do so. How to move up is a great
aspiration, but it must be done carefully. Self promotion the wrong way
can be harmful to the executive’s career.
Be Seen, Be Heard, Be Careful
The issue of self promotion is a tricky one. From childhood we are
taught to be respectful of others and not call too much attention to
ourselves. This is good advice for kids and adults but when it comes to
getting ahead in the world, if you do not cast a light on yourself, few
others will. “Stripped of nonessentials, all business activity is a
sales battle,” wrote business executive Robert E.M. Cowie. “And
everyone in business must be a salesman.” Integral to sales is
promotion and when the product is you, you must promote it.
The challenge is to do it appropriately and professionally. Here are some suggestions.
Do your job. Most importantly you must perform well over time.
You should meet or exceed job expectations. For example, show how you
can do more with less, or be willing to take tough assignments, ones
that no one else wants. Demonstrate that you work well with others.
Also show that you can do your work on time and on budget. Most
companies notice consistently positive performances. (Hint: If you fail
to perform, forget promotion; such publicity would only reveal your
lack of ability.)
Plan ahead. Promoting yourself is an exercise in career
development. You need to figure out where you are now and where you
want to go in the future. Your challenge is to find ways to hurdle the
gap. Part of the hurdle will involve gaining new skills and training,
but it will also involve letting your supervisor know that you want to
Argue the business case. The worst way to position yourself is
to call attention to yourself by jumping up and down and shouting,
“Hey, boss, look at me, aren’t I doing a good job?” No! Consider your
advancement a business proposition. Itemize your skills as well as your
accomplishments. Position yourself as an asset who is worthy of
investment. Think about what you bring to the enterprise and what more
you can do for the company.
Look for opportunities to lead. Demonstrate initiative. Suggest
ideas for improvement, and if they fit the business case, be ready to
implement. That is, back up your ideas with actions. One way may be to
volunteer (that does not mean work for free) to head a project team or
spearhead a new initiative. Demonstrate that you have what it takes to
assemble resources and people as well as push for execution.
Put yourself in the way of opportunity. Lee Trevino, a popular
golfer a generation ago, was struck by lightning a couple of times, but
he would joke that “only God could hit a 1 iron,” a notoriously tough
club for high handicappers to strike well. The challenge for people on
the move up is to raise their own 1 iron and hope that lightning
strikes – metaphorically speaking, of course. Your 1 iron is your
talent; lightning is opportunity. The challenge is to get onto the
course (where the players are) and into the thunderstorm (where the
action is). Find ways to introduce yourself and your work to
higher-ups. You also can do this through networking inside and outside
Be a team player. No one likes a blatant self promoter.
(Especially a fellow self promoter; and let’s face it, some folks at
the top are just that!) A way to soften the glow of the halo on your
own head is to wrap it around others on your team. Talk about what the
team has accomplished. When people see that you are a leader who puts
others first, it says more about your character than any project you
might spearhead. (Hint: Too much deprecation, however, will cause you
to undersell yourself.)
Show enthusiasm. Master salesman Zig Ziglar says, “Enthusiasm
sells.” Apply that mantra to your career. Show up for work or new
assignments with a smile on your face and shine on your shoes. Clich¿
of course, but it works. People like to be around people who believe in
themselves and their work. And what’s more, enthusiasm is contagious.
Others will become excited about what you do.
Remain humble. A dose of humility can temper the flames of
overheated self promotion. A singer once billed himself “as good as
Johnny Cash.” Well, one night Mr. Cash himself happened to be in the
audience, and was none too pleased at the singer’s lack of ability.
After the performance, Cash went backstage and confronted the singer.
Cash sang a few bars of his hit song “Freight Train” to teach the
singer how it should sound. The next night the singer’s billing changed
to “A pupil of Johnny Cash.” (Anecdote from www.thought-starters.com.)
Putting Yourself Forward
Sometimes good self promotion will not work. Consider the world in
which actors live. Most have agents. All have dossiers with clips,
pictures and credits. Day after day, actors audition for parts in TV
shows, movies and plays for which they are not right – not because they
cannot act but because their gender, body type or voice is wrong.
Actors are taught early on not to take rejection personally – a tough
proposition when your acting is a reflection of yourself. Managers,
too, must find ways to keep their talents in use and their skills honed
even when opportunities are not readily available.
There is an element of leadership in self promotion, too. “Enlightened
leadership is service, not selfishness,” writes leadership
author/translator John Heider. If you have what it takes, step to the
front. If you believe in your capabilities, especially your ability to
lead a team, then you should be doing it. You must assert yourself and
find ways to demonstrate that you have what it takes to be the leader.
Stand up for your work and your people, even when things go sour.
Accepting consequences is essential to leadership. What’s more, give
credit to the people on your team. Shining a light on others is a good
way to shine a light on yourself.