Newsletter 565 – The Perils of Self-Promotion

self promotion 4I am not a self-promoter. These newsletters have never been used to promote my books, speaking engagements or accomplishments. I’ve kept my resumé simple, short and unencumbered with lists of what I’ve published or done. In contrast, many of my colleagues and students have an opposite perspective. Sometimes encouraged by their professors, they seem driven to build their vitas, get their names on publications, and push to get noticed. It may come to them as a surprise to learn that a Harvard Business Review editor, Sarah Green, argues that self-promotion has potential to be harmful (see HBR, January-February, 2014).

Green acknowledges the times when “a bit of self-promotion” is necessary—for example when you’re applying for a job or trying to recover from a negative performance review. But she quotes from business psychologist Thomas Chamorrow-Premuzic who writes: “studies show that being perceived as modest is associated with a wide range of positive outcomes…People do not value confidence unless it is accompanied by competence—and even then, they prefer to see as little confidence surplus as possible.” Would you agree that people who push themselves too much, often alienate others in the process? To paraphrase Green, in a super-confident world “I’d prefer less focus on getting ahead and promoting oneself and greater emphasis on getting better.”

But is there place for a person like me who is driven to be competent and reluctant to promote myself at all? After much hesitation, I decided to use this newsletter (see # 560) to announce that I’m available for new coaching clients. But I was so concerned about coming across as self-promoting that I ended up sending a confusing message. Those who responded assumed that I was offering my time and services for free. My business consultant suggested that I should have been upfront and said, “I am looking to replace some of my teaching with a handful of coaching clients, especially those who want to revive their careers. To learn more, including details and fees, please contact” That offer is still open.

And I learned a good lesson. In moderation, there is nothing wrong with marketing and even self-promotion if this is backed by a product or service of proven quality. What do you think? Please comment.


  1. Better to let clients do the horn-honking, me thinks. As a professional coach, and as a coaching client of Gary’s excellent coaching, I HIGHLY endorse him! (This is not a paid political announcement. I really mean it.) Your humility reminds me of the door-to-door shoe salesman, whose first line in greeting people after he knocked on their doors was, “Good morning. You wouldn’t want to buy a pair of shoes, would you?”


  2. Gary, I don’t see offering your services as self-promotion. I think what your business consultant suggested is perfect.

    I take a spiritual view on this. If a person is called by God to do something, then offering that something to others is not self-promotion, it’s living out one’s calling.

    Of course, anything can be taken too far. But this is part of my point, self-promotion isn’t an all or nothing proposition. You have to live out Calling. So there’s always a mix of You and Calling. It’s a sliding scale, regarding how much You is in it and how much Calling.

    Every time I go up front to speak to an audience both Me and Calling emerge. Me never goes away, although he takes a backseat to Calling most of the time these days.

    For me not to speak, in order that Me (or self-promotion) doesn’t come out, would be to not live out the Calling God’s given me. This situation has been frustrating over the years, but I’m reconciled to it, since it sends me to His power, for Jesus said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” That’s humility to me.


    1. Hey Keith. I respect you so much. And I very much appreciate your comment. For all of us personality issues fit in here as well. I have been turned-off by people who seem to be covering their insecurities by flaunting themselves. And I’ve had too many experiences of speakers hawking themselves and their books that I bend over backwards not wanting to look like them. That is one reason why I have enlisted the help of a friend (also a successful coach) who knows me and represents me well (same reason I have an agent). These people do for me what I prefer not to do and that frees me to do what I do best.

      As you indicate marketing one’s gifts, skills and services is not bad or wrong in itself. A lot depends on the attitude of the marketer. You do it well, with respect, and in a way that people appreciate and that lets you build a thriving coach training business. I learn from you and from people like you. Thanks for being a model for me.


  3. Wow, this is a serious question. I agonize over it often. Thanks for your transparency about your own struggle with it. I’ve also been thinking how important it is to clarify this Calling clearly enough for myself to be able to communicate it clearly, yet humbly, to others.

    So many business books, and Christian leadership books, advocate self-promotion. But I can’t buy it. On the other hand, how do we share with others the gifts God has given us, so that the whole Church can benefit from our contribution, however modest? It seems that the uniqueness of it somehow makes it invisible at times to those who don’t share it. Very puzzling.


  4. Jenny, I think a lot of us struggle with marketing. But I am coming to see that marketing is not a bad word or even a bad practice. A lot depends on the way we do it. And when we are competent (demonstrating this rather than broadcasting it) that can be a foundation from which we share what we have to offer.

    I appreciate the warmth and openness about this issue.


  5. Social media allows me to be generous to others by giving content (value). It also gives me the opportunity to let others know what I do and how I get compensated. I agree with your consultant.
    Building a “platform” for blatant self promotion is distasteful, crossing the line in my mind. Perhaps it’s my view at this stage of life. I’m sure there is great pressure on one beginning his career to self promote than there is me nearing the conclusion.


  6. Great letter! God has me on the shelf right now and unable to move forward with becoming a coaching at this time. But some time ago when I was contemplating this area involving promotion, I had a dream with the message “don’t advertise,” so with that, and the testimonies of others, I know that God will bring opportunities and those who in his perfect will, he has already predestined for his great purpose. May God continue blessing you 🙂


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