Women need to say to the world: “This is what I’m good at. This is what I can do for you. This is what I’m worth.”
Patti Wilson, Career Counselor
In this seventh installment on Learning to Lead, I take a look at what I informally refer to as: Tooting Your Own Horn! This might be more appropriately entitled “visibility” so women have less of an immediate adverse reaction. At least half of you recoiled when you read that heading. Women can struggle at times to see the difference between acknowledging the contribution they have made and vainly, cloyingly, self-promoting. We all know women that fly below the radar and never acknowledge their successes just as we all know women who have a list of their accomplishments at the ready, whether or not it is relevant to the conversation. There is a happy medium. Self-deprecation should not serve as the baseline standard, particularly if you want to become a leader in your career and life. There is a way to highlight your successes for the appropriate audience without constantly self-promoting.
Today’s topic builds on the foundational principles previously discussed and that are critical to growing this skill. Techniques such as leading Authentically, Risk-Taking, learning Optimism, Charting Your Course and developing a Vision, and Building important Relationships. Some of those tools, however, come naturally to many women. This one can present unique challenges.
In Secrets of Six-Figure Women, the author offers her perspective on women avoiding recognizing their own success: “Underlying our unwillingness to speak up is a woman’s own inclination to devalue herself….The most salient point about speaking up…is that you have to consciously and deliberately recognize your worth…and make sure others do, too.” She goes on to cite that a surefire formula for failure is assuming others recognize your talent and know what you want. That was confirmed by many women I spoke to for the book. They noted raw talent and smart decisions are important, but those skills alone will never be enough to get you in positions of leadership. This aspect of ensuring others know of your success dovetails logically with charting your own course: you have to let people know what you want and that you are the right person for the project or position.
There is also an aspect of visibility rolled into this leadership characteristic. Successful women leaders maintain the appropriate amount of visibility. They lead by example and serve as role models for other people. They are intentional about what they say and do, keeping in mind their impact and influence. Your messaging should focus on the greater goals and accomplishments as well as the role you play in leading the team to the finish line. Neena Newberry shares how to best create this snapshot of your success:
Remember that others only see small windows into our accomplishments, so we have to create an authentic and powerful picture of who we are and how we make a difference. So, take the time to proactively and consistently share information in a way that’s relevant to you and your company – i.e., to provide “strategic snapshots.” You never know how others might benefit from your experiences.
Another author frames the process as advocating unabashedly for yourself. That whole concept of confidence that was key to the risk-taking mentality, is also critical to speaking up for yourself. You must be confident in your ability and the value you bring to your employer, team, or clients in order for your words to be believable. You are just advocating for yourself when you identify your strengths and contributions just as you likely already do for your family, friends, and colleagues. To achieve your goals, there is always a measure of tooting your own horn say the authors of How Women Lead: “You must develop your personal business strategy, showcase your strengths, promote your accomplishments and contributions to the business, quantify the value you bring to the business, and strongly advocate for promotions and compensation increases. The most successful women say these are the things they wish they had known earlier in their career.” Sometimes half the battle in leading is allowing those around you to identify you as a leader.
So go make a list of your contributions at work and on boards and in the community. Make a list of your biggest accomplishments. Then drill it down to a cheat sheet. Practice telling yourself your successes and leadership skill set. Tell your best friend. You know she’ll agree (and even remind you of stuff you left off). Then tell a mentor or sponsor that can help you strengthen the language and perspective. Name clients you’ve landed, projects you’ve worked on, or unique skill sets you have. Be familiar with what makes you capable of conquering whatever is set before you and then be ready to use those data points in your circles when needed to create or seize opportunities. Also, every time you are chosen for an award or you become a board member for an organization, update your resume. In fact, update your resume every year even if you haven’t had a specific trigger event. That means you will always have it on hand in case someone asks for it, and you will be reminded of your accomplishments when opportunity arises.