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Why Being Humble Will Get You Nowhere

Why Being Humble Will Get You Nowhere

My client spearheaded a major technology change initiative. He came in under budget and met all deliverables. “A winning formula for succession,” you say?

Well here’s what happened. He applied for three internal executive positions and was turned down for all three. He was bewildered. The project he so successfully led was one of two top spends for his organization.

I suggested he inquire as to why he was turned down. He fortunately did receive candid feedback. The executive team replied, “We don’t really know you.” My client was incredulous.

[Related: Spark Your Brand – Discover, Define, & Design]

An important message was gleaned. Keeping your head down and doing great work is not enough. Despite projects that might cross all business platforms this may not be the only requirement it takes to get ahead. So what was missing?

They don’t teach leadership brand value in school. They don’t really teach it anywhere. It is something you gain from experience and seasoning, or if you are fortunate to secure a great mentor along your way.

Your brand value in part derives from relationships you cultivate. No one is necessarily looking out for you. No one necessarily knows your role in designing or driving change. If you fly under the radar then you miss an opportunity to create an important buzz around you.

[Related: Professional Branding Requires More Than 9-to-5]

So what do you need to do? I would call it engaging in balanced self-promotion. Of course you cannot get there without your team. Another client suggested to me, ”My family taught me to be humble and look out for others. It is plain wrong to advertise how great your achievements are.”  She was a senior manager. Once we started to work together in a coaching relationship, it became apparent that getting comfortable with promoting herself would likely garner her a more senior seat at the table. Sure enough she was promoted to VP later that year.

You will be tapped on the shoulder if you catch the attention of a key influencer. Key influencers have respect and clout regarding identifying and promoting next generation leaders. If you are a star and behave like a B player, well guess what? You will be sitting in the bleachers. Better than standing room, but the view from the bleachers is just that, a view.

So do these 4 things if you want to ramp up your career prospects:

1.   Create Visibility   --  Ask your manager for visibility. Be the delegate at senior leadership forums. Present, challenge and speak up so you are seen as adding value.

2.   Display Balanced Promotion  --  You must intersperse “I” in your dialogue. What do you own and take credit for along side your team? Ask yourself, “Could your team have achieved this success on their own?” Every team needs a leader. What was your role? You must have a compelling sound bite.

3.   Network Broadly  --  There is a risk in being too insular. Find ways to add value to a broader audience. Meet with other business partners and inquire how you can add greater value or enhance their ease of doing business.

4.   Engage with Multiple Stakeholders  --  Request a project that provides exposure to a diverse set of stakeholders. Demonstrate initiative and reach out to each of the executives to understand their priorities. Talk to them about your career aspirations and garner their input relative to increasing your profile.

[Related: Personal Branding 101]

Your brand value is your currency. It is all about demonstrating your value to those who can play a pivotal role in accelerating your career.


Cindy Wahler, Ph.D., C.Psych. is a leadership consultant specializing in executive coaching and talent management. She can be contacted at cwahler@cindywahler.com  

 

 


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Natalia Blagoeva

I agree with the main messages and yes, humility alone without the rest of what it takes to succeed will indeed get you nowhere. Yet, one of the key components of great leadership is humbleness and the greater the leader, the more humble he/she is.

January 5, 2015

Elizabeth McCourt

This is great validation and inspiration. My question is how to respond when such action makes a toxic boss feel threatened?

January 9, 2015

Tammy Cao

Great article Cindy! I used to think doing a great job was a good enough reflection of my work and myself. However, if you don't promote yourself, who will? It's very important to build your own personal brand of who you are as a person and as a professional.

January 9, 2015

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