- Harrison Monarth is an executive coach and founder of Gurumaker, a leadership development service.
- He teaches high-level executives to overcome shyness and hesitation to brag about their professional accomplishments.
- Being specific about your organizational impact and success will help your boss make a more informed decision.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
As an executive coach, I’m often tasked with helping leaders who are candidates for senior level positions make a compelling case for why they should be chosen over other applicants who may be just as well-qualified and suitable.
But often these aspiring leaders can be reluctant to advocate for themselves and say what they want, and instead rely on the assumption that their work will speak for itself.
The fear of coming across as bragging often leads qualified candidates to understate their accomplishments. This not only fails to equip senior leaders with information to aid in their decision-making, it also suggests the absence of key leadership traits such as boldness and conviction, that even the most humble organizational cultures require in their leaders.
I worked with one senior manager at the tax division of a global consulting firm who’d twice been denied promotion to director. She’d been given feedback that she needed to “own her accomplishments more” as a leader in her division, and that she needed to articulate them clearly and with confidence. This manager was more comfortable giving credit to her team than spelling out the wins she was directly responsible for.
Fact is, promotions are rarely based solely on the merits of high performance. Executive presence matters too, so candidates who are willing to step up and assert their accomplishments and contributions can often tip the scales in their favor.
I recommend three strategies to get over the reluctance to advocate for yourself and allow your strengths and accomplishments to shine.
1. Change your mindset
We often try to avoid a perception of arrogance by intentionally downplaying our achievements. Plus, humility is such a prized virtue that to assertively talk about your accomplishments can be counterintuitive.
You can reframe this mindset by making it all about your audience. Rather than sharing accomplishments to boost your standing, look at the results you delivered as data that reduces uncertainty in your audience. Our brains crave information that eliminates uncertainty, and promotion decisions are often subject to a great deal of ambiguity, not to mention subjectivity. By clearly articulating your accomplishments and impact, you’re helping key stakeholders make an equitable decision that’s in the best interest of the organization.
2. Create emotional distance
To avoid feeling uncomfortable when detailing your accomplishments, you can use several research-backed emotion regulation strategies. The simple act of leaning back in your chair while articulating your achievements can help create more psychological distance.
Similarly, by imagining your audience far away – something Zoom meetings make even easier – you weaken the emotional intensity of embarrassment or shame you may feel in the process, allowing you to speak with more confidence and conviction.
Another much-cited strategy is to create emotional distance by taking a detached third person perspective when advocating for yourself. It can help to mentally refer to yourself in third person, for instance, “Tom has identified new revenue streams that contribute in excess of $15 million a year.”
3. Tell a story
Weaving your achievements into a brief story of your career can help get your message across without triggering your impulse to pull back. You can start from when you joined the company, proceed through your various roles, and punctuate different moments with your notable contributions and successes.
Transitions will also help stitch your story together. Rather than listing each accomplishment by attaching them to various job titles, you can more seamlessly state: “After making several acquisitions that grew our distributor portfolio by 300 dealers in my role as division leader, I then improved customer retention by 15% in my role as regional VP.”
By putting your accomplishments into the context of a compelling narrative, you’re taking your mind’s focus off the dread of advocating for yourself, while allowing your audience to clearly see your track record of excellence.
At a certain level in top-tier organizations, everyone is exceptional, so the ability to stand out against equally capable colleagues becomes more and more difficult. This is why it’s important for aspiring leaders to not only deliver outstanding results, but also to present them in a meaningful way.
Harrison Monarth is the CEO and founder of Gurumaker and author of Executive Presence: The Art of Commanding Respect Like a CEO. An executive coach, he teaches C-suite leaders, senior executives, and others effective leadership skills for professional and organizational success.