Tooting Your Own Horn: Shameless Self-Promotion to Get Ahead

You probably grew up like I did, with your mother trying to instill in you a sense of propriety and humility. As kids, we are fearless about shouting out our accomplishments and trying to out-do one another. As we get older, though, we pick up on clues that other people don’t like it when we brag about ourselves and we learn to keep our successes hidden. What we don’t learn, though, is the right way to get credit for what we do professionally.

What are some of the things you heard growing up?

“You’ll break your arm, patting yourself on the back.”

“You have two ears and one mouth, so listen twice as much as you talk.”

Or, my mother’s favorite, “Self-praise stinks.”

There’s a wide gulf between practicing humility and promoting ourselves at work. What works to our advantage in a social setting (or with our family) doesn’t always translate to the workplace. So, how do we make sure our accomplishments get noticed?

1. Own your success. Men learn this early on – watch any pro football player who’s just waltzed over the goal line. He celebrates immediately and publicly, making sure that everyone knows that he’s the MAN! If men in business could carry footballs, they’d be spiking them in the boardroom. Women are taught to be humble and will frequently attribute their success to “luck” or to the efforts of other people. Sure, your team worked hard to come up with the new marketing strategy, but aren’t you the head of that team? By all means, make sure they get credit, but don’t short-change YOU – every team needs a leader and, if you’re it, stand up and take the leader’s share of the applause.

2. Develop a good story. Salespeople all learn something called the “elevator speech” – a 30-second tidbit given in response to the question, “What do you do?” Even though you may not think you’re in sales, you need to start seeing your work as a commodity and you as the salesperson who’s touting the benefits. Don’t just say, “Oh, I’m in marketing”; say, “You know that ad with the elephant playing tag with the rabbit? I’m head of the advertising team that developed it. And let me tell you – elephants are no pleasure to work with!” A good story makes you sound interesting and approachable, and gives the other person a place to take the conversation to.

3. Pass the word. If you get an “attaboy” from a client, send a copy to your boss. (Better yet – ask the client to write a note to your boss). If your boss sends you a “great job” note, send a copy to the district manager. If the district manager thanks you, send a copy to your boss and to the regional manager…and so forth. You get the picture.

4. Network, network, network. Savvy professionals know that no matter where they are or who they’re talking with, they’re networking. You never know when your airplane seatmate, cab driver or son’s soccer coach will be your next big business contact. When you show up fully everywhere and express yourself with authenticity, passion and conviction, it generates attention. When your cab driver’s nephew is looking for the perfect widget-maker for a huge order, wouldn’t it be great if you just happened to be in his uncle’s cab, tooting your own horn?

Remember: good work isn’t necessarily its own reward. It doesn’t matter how great you are, if no one knows you’re alive. So get out there and start choreographing your end-zone celebration!