Make a soft but clear noise and you'll be heard.
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 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.
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 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 move up.
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 the organization.
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. Cliche, 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 [ital]www.thought-starters.com[end].)
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.
John Baldoni is a leadership communications consultant who works with Fortune 500 companies as well as the author of six books on leadership; the latest is How Great Leaders Get Great Results (McGraw-Hill). Readers are welcome to visit his leadership resource Web site at www.johnbaldoni.com