I 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.” 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.