April 23, 2019

Learn to promote your accomplishments with class

Promoting yourself and accepting credit for your accomplishments is tough.  Most of us have been acculturated to be humble and not talk ourselves up in public.  We’ve all seen the humble-brag and watched it utterly fail to make people look good.  We’ve also watched people deflect credit and praise, saying something like, “oh I’m not really that good” after winning a big competition or achieving a major career milestone.

But owning our accomplishments is important.  So how do we do so effectively without overdoing it?  I’ve collected a few resources on the topic of “graceful self-promotion” in this post, and will attempt to summarize the key points in each, giving credit to those who originated the thinking and work on this topic.

Why promoting yourself matters

Most of us are taught not to be to full of ourselves or cocky about what we have accomplished.  Many of us prefer to work quietly in the background and not seek praise.  But our accomplishments are part of our unique contribution to our world and our professions.  They are something to celebrate, not brush under the rug.

Many people actually look to us as role models, and they need to know both what we have done to succeed and how we have done it.  And if we do not promote ourselves, it is unlikely that anyone else will do it for us.

So how do we “gracefully self-promote?”

The first publication that I found on this topic was by Page Morahan, PhD, founding director of the Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine (ELAM) program for women leaders at Drexel University College of Medicine.  In this article, Dr. Morahan advises professionals to focus on telling their story, and doing so in a way that:

  • gives others credit when appropriate
  • helps boost the story of their team, not just themselves;
  • keeps their boss in the loop;
  • and allows others to see them as a role model in their field.

I highly recommend Dr. Morahan’s article for some very specific and helpful tips.

This presentation by Kimberly Skarupski, MA, PhD, MPH of Johns Hopkins University builds on these themes, and offers some tips from widely respected leaders.  She talks about bragging gracefully rather than shamefully and reiterates and builds on Dr. Morahan’s tips from above.

In a 2014 article in Harvard Business Review, Dorie Clark writes of the importance of promoting yourself with stories rather than just a list of accomplishments, and she offers perspective on multicultural views of the topic.

This 10-minute video interview with Luanne Thorndyke, MD offers a brief but concrete look at these concepts and summarizes key points for honing the skill of self-promotion in the workplace.


Just do it already

One key takeaway from many of these presentations is to practice self-promotion in small and safe ways.  Such as:

  • Identify someone you trust, and ask them to let you try out a few different ways of putting yourself forward gracefully and diplomatically.
  • Take the plunge and put something in the company newsletter about your latest accomplishment.
  • Promote your own accomplishments as part of a team by giving credit to everyone and making sure the team looks good.

My suggestion:  Pick at least one of these or some other idea, and do something that promotes your and your work at least once per month.  You don’t need to broadcast widely, but a key audience, person or constituency should hear from you.

How do you promote yourself and your work?

Please share your experiences with graceful self-promotion in the comments section below.

Last updated April 23, 2019

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