Can You Promote Your Accomplishments Without Damaging Your Reputation?

May 19, 2015 Vince Molinaro
In my work with leaders, I am often asked about the risk-reward of self-promotion.

Drawing attention to your accomplishments has pretty much become a standard practice for business leaders these days. This is particularly true in the age of social media, where channels for pervasive self-promotion are as close as your smart phone.

However, is this a recipe for success in the long term? Recent research suggests that self-promotion is a tactic that must be approached with caution.

A study from City University London, Carnegie Mellon University and Bocconi University, concludes that extreme self-promotion can have disastrous effects on one’s reputation. “When we engage in self-promotion ourselves, we tend to overestimate others’ positive reactions and underestimate their negative ones,” Irene Scopelliti, a lecturer at City University, told Science Daily.

Okay, so we know that rampant, aggressive self-promotion can backfire. What about less forceful, indirect forms of bragging?

In recent years, the digital world has identified “humblebragging” as a real trend. This is where someone uses social media to circulate a brag couched in false modesty. Like the Tweet that complains about the room service in an exclusive, five-star resort, or the supposedly innocuous photo of you dropping your kid off for classes at an Ivy League university.

Research also shows this approach might even be more destructive to your reputation. Harvard Business Professors Francesca Gino and Michael I. Norton and doctoral student Ovul Sezer wrote a paper that shared the findings of several experiments they conducted. The study concluded that humblebragging caused others to see the humbebragger as unlikeable and incompetent.

Is there a lesson in all this research for business leaders? Self-promotion can have a very negative impact on someone’s career as a leader. However, in my work with leaders, I have found that being too modest can also limit personal growth and success.

Promoting your accomplishments as a leader is actually a key ingredient to success. People need to know about the good things that you’ve done. However, I’ve met a lot of leaders who are simply too modest to engage in any form of self-promotion.

Strict modesty may earn the respect of the people that work closest with them, but their modesty, shyness and introversion can actually obscure their accomplishments. I’ve actually seen leaders lose out on career opportunities or securing executive buy-in to their ideas because they were too modest.

The key here is to find that sweet spot between rampant or disingenuous self-promotion and no self-promotion. Finding the sweet spot can be, however, quite a challenge.

The first thing you need to do is reflect on your own approach to self-promotion. Are you an aggressive braggart? Or, perhaps you’ve been trying to be too cute by dropping humblebrags on your Twitter followers. Or, maybe you’ve rejected all forms of self-promotion.

As a simple rule of thumb, I like to remember that my success is due not only to my own skills and experience. Success is a by-product of surrounding yourself with smart, capable people.

So, if there is a moment of success to be shared with the world, start by highlighting the contribution that others have made. Do that enough, and people will see that you are a leader of smart, capable people, which is in and of itself a hallmark of a successful leader.

This week’s Gut Check question: Can you promote your accomplishments without damaging your reputation?


About the Author

Vince Molinaro

Vince Molinaro is the Global Managing Director of Strategic Solutions at Lee Hecht Harrison. He is also the author of The Leadership Contract – a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. Vince has spent more than 20 years as an adviser to boards and senior executives looking to improve leadership in their organizations.

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