My husband says that if I ever write an autobiography, it should be called Always Selling. As a young girl, I remember going door to door in our small New England town, selling packets of seeds, greeting cards, and potholders I had made. Was I scared? Sure I was. But once the neighbor opened her door, somehow I knew it would be worth it.
I always walked away with something–not a sale every time, but with a heightened sense of self-worth. Everybody took me seriously when I was selling!
Few skills are more important in today’s business world than putting yourself forward so you can gain attention and respect from others. While men seem to do this naturally, women feel less comfortable promoting themselves. Women I’ve talked to tell me self-promotion is “vain,” “pushy,” and “self-congratulatory.” They are afraid people won’t like them if they call too much attention to themselves and their successes. But self-promotion is a critical skill for those who wish to move up in their organizations or be recognized for their accomplishments.
So how can women promote themselves in a way that is natural and comfortable? To put it differently, how can they put themselves forward without sounding pushy or egotistical?
The starting point of confident self-promotion is understanding that it is not brazen self-centeredness. That approach increasingly doesn’t work for women or men in a world that has moved away from command-and-control.
Self-promotion is simply showing others that you’ve accomplished something special. And rather than feeling you have to say, “I,” “I,” “I did this,” when you discuss your achievements, show how they promote broader goals. To be a good self-promoter, articulate your value in a way that illustrates a contribution to your organization, your team, or to others.
In short, promoting yourself does not mean narrowly focusing on your own personal brand—or boasting in the ME, ME, ME sense. It simply means telling the world (or the room) about something you have done that it is worthy of mention.
For many women who have spent their lives deflecting compliments, putting forth their own strong achievements can be challenging. How can you develop this all-important skill?
Begin bragging in safe environments. One place to do this is in the home. When you put your child to bed, you might say, “Do you know what Mommy did today? I gave a speech and people clapped because they liked what I said.” Or you can practice with a trusted colleagues. You might tell her: “I am taking on a new project, and I am convinced that it will be successful!”
Once you get the hang of bragging in these safe situations, you’ll be better able to sell yourself in more challenging situations. So, for example, you will gain the strength to tell a room full of executives that you are confident your HR leadership program will develop the firm’s talent. The more you brag, the better you’ll get at it.
Every time you walk into a room, attend a meeting, sit at the boardroom table, or have a business conversation, ask yourself: “What can I sell in this situation?” You may want to tell your colleagues or friends that you have aced an interview or completed a major project. You may want to share with a friend that you have had a fulfilling day. Whatever your agenda, make a point of always profiling yourself as someone who has advanced a cause in some way.
Why is this so important? Self-promotion is a way of shaping the world’s understanding of who you are. If you present these positive messages about yourself, others will see you that way. Too often, women have just the opposite mindset. When someone brings up a project that a woman has successfully completed, she is tempted to say: “It was nothing.” So change your mindset. Think of every situation as an opportunity to sell yourself in a positive way.
Women often sit back and wait until someone steps in and gives them that boost or career opportunity they want. For example, in a reorganization, they tend to hold back hoping that the new chief executive will come and offer them a job. Unfortunately, that passive approach doesn’t work. While the men are campaigning for those new positions, the women get left behind.
If you want something, go for it. Put yourself forward and show that you have the ability to succeed in a new role. If you feel you deserve a promotion, go to your boss and make clear your qualifications and interest. If you see a job posting that interests you, don’t give up because you don’t have ALL the qualifications. Go for it, and sell yourself. Finally, if you have a good idea you want to share at a team meeting, put it forward and make a strong case for it, even if you know others in the room will not immediately accept it. In short, always be ready to sell yourself and your ideas. The reason? If you ever stop selling, you’ll stop advancing.
These four strategies will allow you to take the stage–and stay on center stage as a compelling and high-profile leader.