Warner Business Books/Hardcover ISBN: 0446531790
Hardcover 224 pages 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 Buy
It ain't bragging if you done it. -DIZZY DEAN
Myth #1: A JOB WELL DONE SPEAKS FOR ITSELF
It's not my father's workplace anymore, or even the one many of your
mothers may have entered in the 1970s or '80s. The days of job security in
exchange for loyalty and hard work are long gone. For most, this isn't news.
Yet many of us fail to recognize the value of self-promotion in maneuvering
today's volatile and unpredictable workplace.
Given the constant changes-mergers, management shifts, downsizing-you
simply must let people in the organization know who you are and what you are
accomplishing. Otherwise you'll be passed over for promotions, in succession
planning, or when the company is determining the best performers during
Even if you're an ace at keeping your boss up to speed, remember, he or
she might be gone tomorrow. You need to cover all your bases and stand out
in the eyes of your boss' boss and that boss' boss and all the bosses right
up to the big boss. Your mission is made even more challenging when you
consider what the Information Age has wrought: people who are overwhelmed by
the daily on-slaught of e-mails, voice mails, faxes, phone calls, and
meetings upon meetings. They have little-to-no time or any real need to pay
special attention to you.
Planting for the Future
As important as those on the inside of your company are for your
survival, those on the outside are just as significant: recruiters, industry
associates, personal friends and acquaintances, even your competitors. Even
seemingly stable companies can collapse overnight. Just look at Enron and
Arthur Andersen, among many others.
Good self-promoters know this: They're always planting seeds for the
future. Karen, forty-two, a division head for a major global food
corporation, is a good example. At an informal gathering, when asked how
long she had been in the business and what she did, instead of the typical
"I've worked with my company for fifteen years and run its dairy
division," she responded:
Who ever thought I'd be in the food industry, especially after my mom
forced me all those years to eat Cheez Whiz? [Everyone at the table erupted
with laughter.] It must have been fate, but after I graduated with my MBA
from Columbia, I got a call from a friend who told me about a few
interesting openings. I began working for my company in 1985 in brand
management, working my way up to marketing director.
Two years ago, one of the company's other divisions was really in the
hole and they gave me the assignment of turning it around. I didn't really
know where to start, so I began talking to people on the f loor. A lot of
them had great ideas. From there, I got everyone involved and formed teams
to pull in the various disciplines and put together a strategic vision.
Today, I am the proud head of a dairy division that is number two in
Smart self-promoters show up prepared. They value face time with others
and are always ready with stories about themselves that break through the
verbal clutter. They know that positive regard from others isn't going to
"just happen" on job interviews, at performance appraisals, during
presentations, or at networking functions. And it's unlikely to "just
happen" by marching into the CEO's office and asking for an appointment
to discuss how wonderful you are. It's not going to happen unless you make
it happen, and the crème-de-la-crème opportunities to self-promote are
going to come your way when you least expect them.
Myth #2: BRAGGING IS SOMETHING YOU DO DURING PERFORMANCE REVIEWS
April 5, 2002: I am on a plane bound from New York to San Francisco and
the thirty-something guy sitting next to me just blew it: He missed a golden
opportunity to sell himself and his company.
We had struck up a conversation and were happily chatting away about
living in San Francisco when I asked him, "So what is it that you
do?" "I'm a management consultant," he replied. He didn't
continue, so I tried to engage him more by asking, "What's your
specialty in management consulting?" "Telecommunications," he
responded, followed again by dead silence. I took on the exercise of seeing
if I could pull out some more information asking, "Who do you do it
for?" He named one of the top five management-consulting firms, then
stopped cold. I was just about to ask another question when something inside
me snapped. I thought to myself, I'm not asking a fourth question. I've done
enough digging. He's not making it interesting or fun for me to talk with
The first response from many clients hearing about this casual airplane
encounter is to rattle off possible reasons why this fellow wasn't more
forthcoming. Maybe he was tired, or reluctant to start tooting his own horn
on an airplane, afraid that he might divulge sensitive information to prying
ears, possibly a competitor's. While sometimes that may be true, in this
case we were already having a conversation. So the point is, the road
traveled by a lackluster self-promoter is paved with missed opportunities.
You need to act like your best self even with strangers on airplanes and
even when you don't feel like it. Before you quickly slam shut the book
claiming this is exactly the reason you didn't go into sales, consider the
following: Mr. Telecommunications didn't know who I was.
I might have been a CTO of a company that could have used his consulting
services. I might have been a recruiter who could come in handy one day when
he'd gotten axed or one who was currently placing a specialist in the
hottest new company in Silicon Valley. He didn't know that, in fact, I am a
consultant who works with Fortune 500 firms and could possibly introduce him
to an executive of a company that could have become a major new account. He
never found out.
I wasn't asking him to reveal the location of the Holy Grail. I was
simply asking that he tell me more about himself. If he had engaged me and
talked about what he did and got me excited about it, I might have been a
good future contact. I might have handed him some business. At the very
least, I would have remembered his story.
Myth #3: HUMILITY GETS YOU NOTICED
I've gone to spend a few days with my friend in the hinterlands of
western Massachusetts and I find myself in an unlikely place: a tae kwon do
class that her five-year-old son is enrolled in. The grand master, a Korean
black belt, begins the class by asking the students to recite in unison the
five themes by which to live. Lined up in military-style precision, each
child exhibiting impeccable posture, they shout:
Self-control! Honesty! Perseverance! Honor! Humility!
There it is. That last one. Don't brag about yourself. Stating your value
and accomplishments is risky because you might come across as pompous or
make other people feel uncomfortable. It's safer and much more appealing to
be humble and understated. But will you get ahead?
Humility is a virtue with biblical and spiritual roots that is taught the
world over. In some areas of the world, such as Asia, humility is prized
much the way we in America prize our freedom of speech. Early on we are
taught humility for good reason. We haven't developed the social skills to
talk about our accomplishments and ourselves gracefully. Instead, as
children we blurt out, "My daddy has lots of money," "I'm
better than you because. . ." or in the case of my friend's son,
"I have more land than anyone," which he proudly proclaimed one
morning between mouthfuls of Cheerios as his mother cringed. Our parents and
mentors know it's important to squelch this behavior right from the get-go
or people aren't going to like us. And they're right.
But the problem is this: Very few of us ever learn how to reconcile the
virtue of humility with the need to promote ourselves in the workplace. When
education and training do focus on selling ourselves, we're taught to pay
the greatest care and attention to our wardrobe, our hair, our hygiene, our
table manners, and our résumé. Get those things right, it's a slam dunk!
There's very little instruction on selling ourselves with ease and
sincerity. Somehow we think if we personalize our message or get too
excited, we are not being professional, when in fact this is exactly what
makes us effective self-promoters.
The tug-of-war between showing humility and showcasing our
accomplishments is played out daily across working America, even in the
brashest of industries. Recently, while conducting a workshop at a major
Wall Street investment bank, I asked a group of young men and women to
update me on any successes they had experienced since we'd last met when we
worked on crafting more compelling sales pitches.
From the back of the room, I overheard one guy encouraging Patty, a
twenty-six-year-old, perfectly coiffed junior banker to share her success
story. Even though she had just landed a $10 million account, Patty seemed
reluctant. With prodding from the whole group, she finally stood up. With
her eyes directed toward the floor, her shoulders shaped like an
orangutan's, and in a whispery voice that barely rose above the white noise
of the conference room, she said:
Oh, well, it's really nothing. It was a team effort. There was this guy
who I had read about in the paper, so I wrote him and later called his
assistant, who said he wanted to meet with me. I went in and told him about
the services of the bank and what we could do for him. He said it sounded
interesting and asked where do we go from here? And I said, well, I'll bring
the portfolio manager and my senior banker with me and we'll make an
appointment. So we went back in two weeks. I led off the meeting, but the
senior person did most of the talking, and we got a call yesterday and he's
giving us ten million dollars. And then she sat down.
I asked the group for some feedback. The fellow who had initially urged
her on was flabbergasted. "Patty, what was that? You heard about this
guy, you called him up, you met with him, and he gave you ten million
dollars! You told it as if you had nothing to do with it. Quite frankly, you
sounded like a wimp."
Patty replied, "Yeah, well, you know, a lot of people helped out. I
didn't want to sound like I was bragging and taking all the credit." An
Ah-Ha Moment for Patty
Seeing that Patty was missing the point, I encouraged this co-worker to
get up and act as though the story had happened to him. He said:
Oh man, I read about this guy in the paper. I got really excited about
it. I wrote him a fabulous letter. I called his assistant to set up a
meeting with him. On the day of the appointment, I was nervous but we still
had a great conversation. I was really on my game that day. And he said,
"What's the next step?" And I said, "I'll come back with my
boss and portfolio manager. You're going to love them." When we walked
in two weeks later, I introduced everyone to set the stage. Then they did
their thing. Just yesterday the guy contacted me to give us his
ten-million-dollar account. I am so psyched! I nursed this baby from
beginning to end.
I asked the group to describe differences between the two versions of the
story. The remarks were revealing: "David really owned it. He came
across as excited about what happened. But he seemed authentic, too. He
didn't come off like he was stretching the truth. You could tell he was
really proud of what he had done."
Patty said, "Now that I've seen him do it and people respond so
positively, maybe it wouldn't feel as uncomfortable to promote myself in
this way." Like so many others I have coached, Patty was learning to
overcome the whispers from her past, those similar to my father's, like
"You're going to break an arm, patting yourself on the back too
Myth #4: I DON'T HAVE TO BRAG; PEOPLE WILL DO IT FOR ME
It's great if someone says something nice about you, but don't hold your
breath. Although letting others do the bragging for you is one tool in your
goody bag, it isn't your only tool. And it's no substitute for you. No one
is going to have your interests at heart the way you do. No one will ever
tell your story and get people excited about you like you can. Plus, nine
times out of ten, when those to whom you report talk positively about your
work to others, it's usually because there is something in it for them.
Unfortunately, the accolade is often framed in such a way as to bolster
them, more than you!
Since most people rarely acquire the skills to promote and talk about
themselves, many come to rely on others to do the dirty work and boast on
their behalf. As children, most of us have at least one adoring fan who
pushes us along, builds our ego and self-esteem: a parent, a coach, a
favorite aunt or grandparent who takes us under a wing, or a teacher who's
convinced we're the next Einstein or Michael Jordan. Where we start to
really stumble is when we grow up. When we no longer have our childhood
cheerleading squad on hand, many of us wrongly presume that others in the
workplace will fill their shoes and continue with unconditional support for
our accomplishments and us. And even then, when someone occasionally sings
our praises to others, we tend to deflect the compliments with
self-deprecating comments: "Oh, no, it wasn't anything," or like
Patty, in the preceding example, "It wasn't me. It was really the
Looking Out for #1
Bill, age twenty-one, a quiet, understated, no-nonsense type of guy, has
yet to grasp the most basic rules when it comes to self-promotion. He's a
go-getter salesman who has just placed first in the Southwestern division
for selling more of his company's software than anyone. He believes that his
numbers speak for themselves and he assumes that his boss, who has praised
him often for his sales prowess, will let the higher-ups know.
When his boss presents his division's sales results and estimates to
senior management, here is what he says: "We've had an excellent first
half; we are up twenty-five percent, a remarkable feat considering the tech
downturn." When asked by the CEO what's working, Bill's boss replies,
"I've put a top-notch sales force in place and I've trained them well.
You know that problem we were having with our fixed-pricing schedule? Well,
I sat down with Fred, the marketing director, and we determined that if we
allowed our sales guys some greater flexibility and let them customize some
of the pricing-within limits, of course-we'd sell substantially more units.
And that is exactly what happened."
When someone mentions that she heard about Bill getting the award for the
most sales in the Southwest, his boss says, "I knew the day he walked
in that I could whip him into shape. I worked hard to get him on board, and
it's paid off."
Even though Bill got the sales award, the boss took most of the credit.
Bill's lackluster bragging skills limited him on two levels. First, because
he placed very little importance on making personal connections with his
boss or senior management, they had no vested interest in him, other than
some guy making his numbers. Second, Bill's tight-lipped "sales are the
only thing that matters" mentality is shortsighted. Had he revealed
something more about himself and his story, his boss would have learned that
Bill is from a tough neighborhood. He put himself through school and now
spends a lot of his leisure time as a mentor with troubled youth. Knowing
this, his boss might have told the CEO instead, "I knew the day he
walked in that Bill was gold. He had already worked his way through college,
and that kind of can-do attitude has paid off." Now, suddenly an image
of Bill appears in everyone's mind. He becomes more than just a good hire.
He becomes a gutsy, hardworking guy with a can-do attitude.
And if Bill had mentioned to his boss his work with youth, a seed might
have been planted. One of the higher-ups in the meeting asks Bill's boss if
he knows of anyone who might be interested in starting a high-profile
community outreach program to enhance the company's image. Bill's boss says,
"Not off the top of my head," and Bill misses another golden
opportunity. Seldom are we encouraged to bring our background, our
experience, and our enthusiasm to the table and weave them into a compelling
human-interest story. It's ironic that with all the advances in
communications technology, our interpersonal business communication skills
languish in the Dark Ages.
Myth #5: MORE IS BETTER
It's a beautiful California morning. I am in my office early when the
phone rings and I answer it. Immediately I am once again reminded that
self-promotion is all about the quality of one's message and story, rather
than a boring list of accomplishments. As the following discussion so
vividly demonstrates, it doesn't matter what you've done; if you can't sell
yourself in a way that's inviting to others, people shut down.
"Hi, is Peggy Klaus in?" asked a female voice. "Yes, this
is she." Never stopping to ask if this was a good time to talk, this
stranger proceeded to launch into a litany of her accomplishments, delivered
with the precision of a Power-Point presentation.
"I am so excited to talk to you. I just graduated with a degree in
communication. I was an excellent student with a 4.0 GPA. I wrote for the
school newspaper, which has won accolades from all over the state. I also
interned at a local advertising agency during the summers for the last four
years. I have a very good reputation and references. For my term paper, I
wrote about the changing role of communication in our society today. I think
I would be perfect for a job in communication, and since you are involved in
that, I wanted to speak with you."
I said, "I'm sorry, what was your name?" She stated her name,
but before I could get another word in edgewise, to my utter amazement, she
continued: "I also forgot to tell you, I don't know how I could have
forgotten, because it's so important, but I can't begin work for another
month because I won a prestigious service award and will be traveling to
Africa next month to help needy children."
I finally had to say, "Excuse me, Sarah. Obviously you've done so
many things, but I have to tell you that I am not looking to hire anyone at
this point. You might want to consider some of the larger firms in the
area." "Thank you for talking to me," she responded meekly,
sounding as if the air had seeped out of her overinflated balloon.
Sarah, like many, is a victim of a one-size-fits-all method of
presentation that emphasizes form over authenticity.
If she had only started off by asking, "Is this a convenient time to
talk?," by telling me how she had learned about my firm, and by
engaging me in a thirty-second story about herself, the result would have
been different. Even though I wasn't hiring, I would have offered her the
name of a personal friend who was. As it was, I just wanted to get her off
Myth #6: GOOD GIRLS DON'T BRAG
I'll never forget the national television images of thirteen-year- old
Rebecca Sealfon, winner of the National Spelling Bee, screaming and leaping
around the stage in triumph of her hard-won victory. Unlike Patty, the
junior banker who resisted telling others about her multimillion-dollar
business win, Rebecca was excited and proud. She was happy and confident.
She was a female thrilled to tell the world about her success.
She was one of the few. Many talented women today continue to abide by
the myth that it's unbecoming and aggressive to promote themselves. Although
their parents may have told them they could do anything they wanted, there
was also a big but. And that was, but don't celebrate your own glory. It was
all right if the boys vied for the limelight and one-upped each other, but
girls were taught to share it with others. And even then, it was best not to
draw too much attention to themselves.
This disinclination among professional women to self-promote has
far-reaching consequences. It can affect referrals, negotiations of work
schedule, salary, high-visibility assignments, and promotions, as well as
make your blood boil when you see the guys getting ahead faster.
Showing Off Your Real Stuff
Throughout the years, I've worked with many female clients on changing
the behaviors that result from the fear of upstaging male colleagues. Once I
coached a physician from Harvard who was preparing a presentation to a large
conference of her peers. Although only in her thirties, she had a tremendous
amount of credibility in her field and a great deal of experience speaking
at conferences. Yet when she practiced her presentation in my studio, she
didn't come across as an assured, confident academic and scientist. Instead,
she rambled, didn't appropriately introduce herself or her credentials,
lacked a sense of urgency and excitement about her new breakthrough, and
suppressed all of the delightful personality and sense of humor she had
revealed in our earlier conversation.
When I asked about her style, she told me she didn't want to appear
"too big" or "too braggy." She was concerned that her
achievements would make her older and mostly male colleagues feel
uncomfortable. What she did as a result was to present an unconvincing and
boring recitation of her findings.
Fortunately, when she saw her performance on video playback in my studio,
she didn't like what the tape exposed. She decided that she was willing to
take the risk of stepping into the spotlight to present a fuller, more
authentic version of herself. This didn't translate into acting "more
like a man" or changing her personality. Instead, she learned to
present her own characteristics with conviction and confidence by using
direct eye contact, a sense of humor, and a conversational speaking style.
She talked about herself and her credentials with enthusiasm, convincing her
audience of the importance of her research. If she believed she was the
expert and worthy of recognition, so would they.
Myth #7: BRAG IS A FOUR-LETTER WORD
Brag doesn't have to be a distasteful four-letter word. Someone who is
effective at self-promotion brags in a way that isn't obvious to others, and
doesn't come across as too self-serving.
Learning to brag is not about becoming something you aren't or trying to
put something over on someone. In fact, bragging as an art is just the
opposite. It's about becoming more of who you are and bringing forward your
best parts with authenticity, pride, and enthusiasm. It's about telling your
story in a way that showcases your strengths. It's a way of building a
bridge to others and to better opportunities. Seeing it in this light, one
woman pointed out that bragging is really a way of honoring our own spirits
and who we really are. She noted that we do endless self-bashing along the
lines of "I should be this and I shouldn't do that," or "Oh,
no, I just got to the top of the publishing world because I happen, well, to
be lucky." Instead, for her, bragging has become a way to revel in all
the wonderful things she has accomplished.
To see bragging in this way, we have to start by wiping the slate clean
and dropping our preconceived notions. As one man recently asked, "I
have a boss and all he does is brag about himself. I hate it. Do I want to
be one of those people? Is this what your program is all about?" Of
course not. His boss is one of those people who have taken it to the
extreme, who brag in a way that's annoying. But look at this man's reaction.
Because of it, he doesn't brag at all, but becomes upset when recognition
passes him by. My message to all of you is simply this: You don't want to
brag like "one of them," but that doesn't mean you shouldn't do it
at all. Let me show you how to talk about yourself in a way that is sincere
and feels comfortable. By doing so, you're going to learn how to brag and
get away with it!
Copyright © 2004 by Klaus & Associates, Inc.