Photo: Emmanuel Bior
I recently attended a women’s leadership dinner and heard a young woman ask the speaker — a corporate woman executive — her best strategy for promoting her accomplishments. Coolly, the executive responded, “Have others do it for you.”
Ever since, I’ve been turning this advice over uncomfortably in my head.
I’m the first person to say that you need to enlist others in your career advancement. And of course, it helps your career if people speak positively about you when you’re not around.
But taking an “outer” approach to self-promotion puts an awful lot of hope and trust in others. And it negates your own voice and power to … a mere whisper. Just consider the experience of Marcia Reynolds, Psy.D., a versed executive coach and author of Wander Women: How High-Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction. Reynolds often hears leaders remark about her female coachees: “She’s valued more by senior management than she values herself.”
Whether you’ve landed a new client, settled a case, launched a product or won an award, consider some of the approaches below as you fine-tune your own voice for talking about accomplishments:
Be a better storyteller
If it’s true that you have to tell it to sell it, then you’d better think about how you can package your accomplishments in story format. Narrate your success so it has a clear beginning, middle, and end. By telling a story, it not only humanizes your success for the listener, but it’s often easier for you, the storyteller, to share without feeling conceited. Need help thinking of good story material?
Paul Smith, author of Lead with a Story: A Guide to Crafting Business Narratives That Captivate, Convince, and Inspire asks, “What’s the toughest problem you ever solved? What’s the most creative thing you’ve ever done? What’s the best working relationship you’ve ever had? For great story content, recall your greatest successes, challenges, and failures.”
Keep it factual
Many women avoid self-promotion for fear their accomplishment will sound overblown. Sara Canuso, founder of training and coaching firm Women That Influence, suggests a different tactic.
Recommends Sara, “Try to state your accomplishments in ways that are irrefutable. Avoid innuendo or hearsay by focusing on your concrete actions and behaviors, and most of all, results you were responsible for.”
If your efforts led to a very happy client, return business or an important efficiency, then own it! Doing so allows you to speak about your victory without hesitation or being overly modest. If it’s true, it’s not bragging.
If you succeeded in drafting a winning strategic plan, let’s say, and want to be recognized and called for your strategic mindset in the future, then you need to frame your success using the right language — even after the fact. Kathleen Cashman, CEO of Cashman Consulting LLC, a management consulting and training firm, advises using simple yet consistent words or “drop in’s” that reinforce your accomplishment.
For example, you might say, “You can rely on me. I have a strategic view on this topic … ” or “Strategically, I think we should … ” Cashman notes, “You’d be surprised how the consistent ‘drop-in’ influences others to use these words when they’re speaking about you.”
With study after study showing that women are more apprehensive about discussing their general competence — let alone major accomplishments — this is something we need to do.
Ultimately, self-promotion is … self-preservation.