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The Art of Gentle Promotion

I was brought up in a family that believed that ‘hard work was its own reward’. My family carer guidance was a subset of this ethos and went along the lines of ‘work hard and you will be recognised and promoted’.

It took me a few years to find that this was a rather simplistic view of career progression and indeed what I would now call ‘brand management’ (a term my forebears would cringe at no doubt). Indeed well into my corporate career I was pointedly asked by a senior manager ‘There is one promotion up for grabs in the factory in the next few months. Which of your grade do you think should get it?’ I gave what can only be described as a politically correct answer similar to ‘There are a number of us suitably qualified etc etc’. He cut across me and said ‘Do you think the others would say that?’

This was his rather sharp lesson in the fact that you need to learn to sell yourself in this world and that my humility was possibly overdone.

I’m much older now and yet I will still have difficulty putting myself forward in this way. Something needs done and I’m the first to put my hand up. If it’s broken, needs looked at, or an opinion sought then I have no problem at all. But to suggest that I should be considered above or better than anyone else and my linguistic skills reach their limitation.

Despite the lessons of my corporate career I know that it’s hard to shrug off inbuilt habits that stem from a values base present in my childhood. And I know that I’m not the only one. Many of us walk through our working lives watching people who are ‘natural’ self promoters get positions that we know we would have been able to do and would have enjoyed doing. Many wonder why our bosses don’t seem to appreciate the talents we bring and think we need to be like those self-promoters, knowing that we couldn’t be that blatant.

I don’t believe the answer lies in being like those self-promoters. I do believe the answer lies in being more honest with yourself.

You do a good job and deliver a great result, so what’s the problem with telling your boss factually and openly what you’ve been up to and what the result was? The problem will be that it feels like boasting, or arrogance or any other negative value that you can apply here. Its not what you ‘should’ do. And if you ‘should’ yourself like that then it’s worth exploring why.

So what approaches can you take that don’t feel negative? You can ask if they are interested in an approach that you’ve tried (permissive approach) or whether they would be happy to give you feedback on something you’ve been doing (opportunity to learn) for example. A simple ‘any comments on that report I gave you?’ can be enough to open up a conversation that could end with you saying ‘I’m glad because I was quietly pleased with it myself’.

And if your other ‘should’ is that the boss will tell you what they think if it’s good enough (because thats a bosses job isn’t it?) then just ask yourself whether you always remember to say ‘well done’, whether the boss is thinking that it was good work but was too busy to say or frankly is so used to handling problems that they just post a success quickly so they have time for the next issue.

So why does this approach matter? Well the next time there is a promotion up for grabs you can be sure that the self promoters are out there promoting. If that is not your style then you want to be sure that you have a steady back-story of gentle success throughout the year rather than an empty space.

And yes if your boss says ‘Who do you think I should promote?’ say ‘Well I don’t know about anyone else but I would really like a shot at it’.


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