Self-Promotion is Not Self-Serving; It’s a Service to Others

By asking, “How can I help?” you raise your visibility while improving the overall work experience for those around you.

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If you’re like most women, you cringe at the idea of self-promotion. Images of shameless blowhards flood your mind when you imagine doing more to publicly share your value. You realize that your work won’t speak for itself, but you’re unwilling to compromise your authenticity (and integrity) by tooting your own horn.

As an executive coach who specializes in women’s leadership, I consistently hear from women who understand that self-promotion is critical to career advancement, but they’ve either been penalized for doing so, or have concluded that it’s too obnoxious a practice to adopt.

So, what’s a woman to do if she is too uncomfortable or too uncertain how to engage in strategic self-promotion?

First of all, congratulate yourself for your humility. Nobody likes or respects those who can’t get enough of themselves. Your humility likely makes you a stronger team player and a more trusted colleague. But too much humility can keep you from getting the recognition and advancement opportunities you deserve.

Let’s begin by redefining self-promotion. When done strategically, self-promotion is not self-serving but rather a service to others.

You may be surprised by the notion that self-promotion benefits anyone but yourself. The reality is, however, that when you are hired to be part of a team, you are hired to bring unique skills and strengths to your role. If your colleagues don’t know or can’t access those skills and strengths, you’re depriving them of an opportunity to leverage your value.

Imagine you’ve designed a new reporting process that saves time and offers greater usability. You’re excited by the results, but you’re hesitant to share this with others because you don’t want to sound boastful.

Now, imagine that another team struggles with their reporting capabilities and spends precious time using outdated processes with poorer quality information. Would sharing your new best practice with them benefit you or them? The answer is both! They benefit from the ability to leverage your capabilities and you benefit from the increased visibility.

To authentically engage in self-promotion without alienating those around you, focus on being of service to others. What are the ways in which your work has relevance to those around you? How can others benefit from your insights and experience? Which of your skills complement those of your colleagues? Instead of asking, “How can I showcase my greatness?” ask, “How can I help?”

There are numerous benefits to self-promotion as a form of service. Here are three:

1) You make others’ jobs easier.

By sharing your skills and talents with others, you empower them to focus on their strengths while leveraging what you uniquely bring to the team.

Rather than re-invent the wheel, your colleagues can benefit from your value, resulting in increased efficiency, collaboration, and trust.

2) You model authentic self-promotion for others.

Too many women remain in the shadows because they don’t want to step into an unnatural spotlight. By engaging in service-based self-promotion, you provide the women around you with an authentic way to share their own value with others.

3) You become recognized for your work without penalties for violating gender norms.

Gender norms can be very stubborn. In our society, because men and women implicitly expect that women will be more collaborative and less self-centric, women who do engage in self-promotion often experience backlash. By framing self-promotion through the lens of service, you benefit from the increased visibility and recognition while side-stepping the harsh repercussions of breaking established gender expectations.

As much as we would prefer that our work speak for itself, the sad truth is that people are too busy and self-absorbed to notice all of the wonderful ways in which you contribute to your organization. Your responsibility is to not only produce high quality work, but also to ensure that others can see, understand, and access it.

By asking, “How can I help?,” you raise your visibility while improving the overall work experience for those around you.

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