Self-Promoters Are the Devil. So How Do I Get Attention?

“Can I ask you about how to become more visible?” my coaching client asked me, when we were supposed to be talking about her presentation skills. There weren’t a lot of opportunities for her to present, in fact, so we switched to this topic of greater concern. Because she was very concerned. She really needed to raise her profile.

But there was a catch.

“I hate self-promoters,” she said, wrinkling her nose and curling her top lip in the universal signs of disgust.

I asked her if this distaste for self-promotion had cost her some opportunities for career advancement. “Absolutely,” she said. But she still wouldn’t play the game.

What was interesting was that she wasn’t an introvert, and she didn’t lack confidence in her achievements. Her problem with asserting herself grew out of her cultural and personal values. Nothing would convince her to be more like the people she avoided in the office. It was just plain wrong to behave that way.

I know a lot of people who feel that their work should speak for itself, and that workplace politics will give their hands a smell they won’t be able to wash off when they get home. But if you’re like my client, and have a team of people working with you, your own career-limiting ideas have the potential to limit theirs as well. When a team leader doesn’t seek recognition, the team lives in obscurity.

I gave her two options, designed to be both palatable and effective. The first one focused on her individual visibility. Let’s call it Climbing via Curiosity. If you can identify people above you in the organization who have the power to influence others, and equally important, whom you like and respect, show some curiosity. Find time to ask them about their work. Seek their opinion on a new idea you’ve had. Let them share their experience with you. They may not talk about you to someone else right away, but you may stand out for showing an interest in them, and you’ll also likely get an opinion that will help you in your thinking.

(In case it hasn’t resonated with you quite yet, this is pure Dale Carnegie. Read his books. They are beautifully composed, extremely meaningful, and funny. Selections from three of his books can be found in How to Enjoy Your Life and Your Job.)

The second option I offered was to talk about the accomplishments of her team more with her supervisors and above: Climbing via Commending. I recommended that she discuss not only the efforts of the team as a unit, but also the work of specific individuals. Why? Because this would show the people who judge her capabilities that she has a discerning and appreciative eye on the work being done, and knows a good thing when she sees it. It will show them that she is confident enough in her own abilities to praise others.

Curiosity and commending usually have to be sincere to be believed. Maybe you’re wondering if you’ll be able to pull it off. But if you can’t show curiosity sincerely, can’t sincerely praise the specific efforts of your team to others, then tell me why you should be promoted.

(When you finish Dale Carnegie, have a look at I Wish I’d Known That Earlier in My Career: The Power of Positive Workplace Politics by Jane Horan.)



Alison Lester is a writer and communication skills coach based in Singapore. Her books include a guide to more creative and comfortable presentation skills called Present for Success, and a collection of essays called Restroom Reflections: How Communication Changes Everything. She blogs at, and her first novel, Lillian on Life, will be published by Amy Einhorn Books in January 2015.

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