I remember meeting with a female senior leader at a company early in my career. I was curious how she became a VP in marketing and reached out to have a one-on-one discussion. During the conversation, she shared insights and tips about her career progression, but surprised me when she said, “Earlier in my career I thought doing a good job was enough to get promoted. I wish I would’ve realized sooner that I had to tell people about the great work I was doing – I believe my career would’ve advanced much faster.” As an entry-level manager her success seemed obvious to me, but her comment spoke volumes to me about what she believed she hadn’t done quite so well: promoting herself.
It didn’t take long for me to understand what she meant because I became guilty of not speaking up about my work at various times in my career. The struggle to talk about what I did, great results achieved, and fear of taking up “too much air” in meetings, was real. And then I realized I wasn’t alone – other ambitious women I talked with revealed that they too struggled to promote themselves and their work.
Where did we learn that we couldn’t, or shouldn’t, toot our own horn?
I believe it comes from what we may have been told or believe about ourselves:
“If you work hard, you’ll be recognized:” so we put our heads down and do the work – hoping for the recognition.
“Women shouldn’t be too aggressive:” so we wait for the opportunities to come instead of proactively pushing for them.
“It’s arrogant to talk about what you do all the time:” so we avoid appearing self-absorbed, and in the process mute or minimize positive results from our work.
“I’m not as good as them:” feelings of inadequacy, or even blatant disregard of our talents by others, can cause us to believe someone else is smarter or more skillful, so we discount how valuable our contributions are.
“I might fail…again:” embarrassment, frustration, or shame from failed projects or business ventures can make us hesitant to talk about our current work.
So how do we overcome our hesitation?
I’ve realized a few things that have helped me shift from reluctance to a greater willingness to promote my work:
1. Tooting our own horn doesn’t need to wait until we’re “further along.”
I used to think that if I had a more senior title, more experience, or better background perhaps I would be more confident in speaking up. I realize now that simply isn’t necessary and in fact it’s an elusive reach for perfection. Whether an entry-level manager or analyst, first year with the company or in business, we should own the value we bring today. Bring your best to what you are doing now and speak with confidence – that is what people will remember and respect. Confidence is not based on a position or tenure, it’s based on the recognition that you provide value, and then being able to communicate that clearly.
Own what you know now, promote it effectively, and people will start to associate you with the skills, results, and wins you share. Opportunities come not just because you work hard, they come when you talk about what you do, and the right people hear about them.
2. Tooting our own horn is not arrogance – it’s an acknowledgement of what we’ve been given.
Have you given someone a gift only to find out they hadn’t used it? Chances are you were frustrated (I certainly have been). Similarly, the talents and skills we have are gifts and they should be used. When we use our gifts effectively, results and success are inevitable and that is nothing to be ashamed of. So get in agreement about the amazing capabilities you’ve been given and talk about them! There’s nothing worse than having talent and not sharing it – you’re not doing anyone a favor. People with far less skills are promoting the heck out of what they do and winning because of it. Scroll on social media to see the latest “insta-famous” person and you’ll know what I’m talking about.
3. We are the solution to someone’s problem.
Whether a business owner or employee, we are problem solvers. When we don’t showcase our skills fully, the company, customers, and you don’t get the benefits your contributions could make. Someone needs to know what you know regardless of the stage of your life – actively share and promote what you do to help bring solutions.
4. We give other people way too much credit.
Even people we admire have weaknesses, yet sometimes we assume everyone else has it all figured it out when in fact they don’t. That is why you are needed! You bring the missing insight and capabilities. Think about it – why did they hire you if there wasn’t a need for your skill set? So it’s up to you to own what you bring and talk about it! The hours and years spent working on your craft means something. You’re the (evolving) expert – remind them of why they need you at the table, in the meeting, and in the position.
Promote your work and latest achievements.
Share your skills and talents gladly.
Toot your own horn – and toot it loud because someone needs to hear it.
Velera Wilson is a speaker, author, and coach who helps ambitious women lead with confidence in their career, relationships, and everyday life. Her book, “You’re Absolutely Worth It! How to Shift from Self-Doubt to Undeniable Confidence” publishes September 2020 – learn more, get exclusive sneak peeks and updates by joining her VIP Book Tribe here.