Being an inclusive leader means recognizing that some of your team members may be too humble for their own good. They want their work to speak for itself. But you know that employees need to self-promote effectively if they want their work to be noticed. It’s your job to coach them to tout their own accomplishments, appropriately and consistently.
The Inequity of Self-promotion
As a leader, you probably have somebody on your team who consistently works hard and does great work. And if that employee is a woman, a member of a racialized group, or from a working-class background, they likely won’t tell anyone. But they secretly expect all their hard work to lead to recognition and a promotion someday. They need to know that their hard work is not the only thing required for them to get ahead. They must find a way to self-promote!
Many of us were raised to be humble. This means that self-promoting can seem to conflict with our values. Your employees may say, “I want my work to speak for itself,” or “I don’t want people to think I’m bragging.” They’re really asking for the quality and quantity of their work to compete with the quality and quantity of somebody else’s work. In that case, they might have a fair shot at the recognition, promotion, or rewards that they deserve.
Reframing the Nature of Career Advancement
It’s unrealistic to think that any person’s work will be fairly weighed against somebody else’s work. Other factors are always at play. Another candidate for the next promotion may have social capital and all the right connections. Maybe their dad plays golf with your CEO. They may have industry buzz because they’re speaking on conference stages or being published in trade journals. For their entire career, they may have been working the system behind the scenes to land a coveted role.
If you are competing with just your work against all of what someone else brings to the table, the odds are against you. As my son put it, “It’s not just my work against his work, it’s my work against all of him.” Exactly! You can’t just outwork someone. You have to do good work and self-promote.
Create Opportunities for Employees to Self-promote
Inclusive leaders create opportunities for their employees to self-promote, consistently, appropriately, and effectively. Here are a few examples:
You should be holding one-on-one meetings with your direct reports every week (monthly is the minimum). Start these meetings by asking your team members what they’re celebrating since your last meeting. If they’ve had a personal or professional victory, you want to be the first to congratulate them!
If your direct reports meet with your manager regularly, encourage them to share their celebrations as a regular part of their skip-level conversations. You can also ask your manager to make space for self-promotion.
If you manage a large department, schedule monthly (quarterly at a minimum) one-on-one meetings with your second-level reports. Open these conversations with a chance for employees to share their wins.
Start every team meeting with an opportunity for team members to share what they’re celebrating. This gives everyone a chance to offer praise for a job well done and to appreciate the successes of others on the team. It’s also a chance for you, the leader, to encourage those who may be shy about sharing with the group. After the most eager volunteers have spoken up, you might say, “Angelo, I know you had a big win last week. Would you share it with the group?”
Hopefully, you’re connected with all your colleagues—especially your team members—on LinkedIn. When they share a professional milestone with you, ask them to post it on LinkedIn and tag you in the post. This gives you a chance to offer public recognition, tag an executive, or repost with a message about how your employee’s accomplishment fits into the corporate or industry context.
Sometimes you want to ensure that your team member gets broader recognition. If they’ve received a major industry award or have been named to a prominent role in a professional association, for example, that’s big news! Coach your employee to send an email to the appropriate executive or whoever manages the company newsletter. Offer to help with the wording of the email, or even send it yourself.
As an inclusive leader, it’s your job to help your employees navigate their careers and the corporate culture. When you find ways to help them self-promote authentically and effectively, everyone wins!