Self-promotion is tricky for everyone — do it too often or too aggressively, and it turns people off; but don’t do it enough, and you foreclose opportunities.
In this two-part blog series, I first examined the challenges involved when lawyers of color engage in self-promotion, and in this installment, I offer tips on how lawyers of color can self-promote fearlessly.
12 Tips for Lawyers of Color to Self-Promote
- Do it! No one else can advocate as well or as passionately on your behalf as you can. You cannot rely on your hard work to speak on your behalf. To do so only allows a portion of the truth to come out. We live in a world with multiple people and things competing for our attention — the same is true of those you are trying to influence. The only way to ensure that they will know of your accomplishments is to do show them yourself.
- Be genuine. One way to defeat the imposter syndrome is to back up your accomplishments with facts. To do this, you must take a step back and really think about what you did that created a positive result. Even in team accomplishments, you played a role, and it is important to know and articulate the contributions you made. When you are aware of your contribution, it becomes easier to share because you will feel a sense of authentic pride in what you have done.
- Tell a story. People are less offended by self-promotion when it is told in the context of a story. Give a little bit of background that allows for what you’ve done to be seen as a meaningful accomplishment. Share some of the challenges you faced in achieving the accomplishment so that people start to identify with you and even subconsciously root for you.
- Include the contributions of others. This is especially true when you are talking to a leader, boss, or client. While this may not seem like self-promotion, I believe that recognizing the contributions of others is a way to undermine the effects of bias. As I noted previously, people of color face a number of biases and stereotypes that have made us perpetual outsiders. To act as if we are in an unbiased world will make you ill-prepared to face it. However, you can recognize where the biases are, how they show up, and use that knowledge to get what you want. One way to do that is to point out your distinct contributions while acknowledging and appreciating the contributions of others. Just because biases and prejudice exist, doesn’t mean it should stop you. Learn to leverage them so that you can accomplish your ultimate goals.
- Keep a running list of wins, accomplishments, and kudos. It is so easy to forget what we have accomplished and the impact we have made. That is why it is important to create a running list of accomplishments and save any praise or kudos you have received. As a secondary bonus, this list will help you fight your internal imposter syndrome.
- Back up your accomplishments with data, facts, and testimonials. When you have data, facts, or testimonials that support your accomplishments, you are less likely to be perceived as a braggart. Instead, your accomplishments become an undeniable conclusion in light of the information presented.
- Find the right angle. Everyone is self-interested. Therefore, to be successful in accomplishing your goal, it is important to understand what matters to the person you are talking to and then structure the self-promotion around those interests. Does the person like to be praised? Then find a way to acknowledge the contribution that person made to your success. Does the person care about the bottom line? Then focus on the elements of your accomplishment that pertain to the bottom line.
- Self-promote regularly. At a women’s leadership conference recently, a person discussed her observations over the years on how some white men self-promote. Several times a week, they would pop by the chairman’s office. Their visits were quick, frequent, and conversational, with a drop of self-promotion. Interestingly, women and people of color did not do this. Many people think that if they do a thorough job during an annual review, that they will achieve their objectives. That is false. During the annual review process, leaders have to review the self-promotion of all who are being reviewed. You have less of a chance to stand out or be remembered. Instead, you have to engage in a drip campaign. In marketing, a drip campaign is a method to nurture leads or prospects by providing consistent relevant information over a long period of time. Similarly, you should find reasons to cultivate relationships where you share some of your notable accomplishments — both big and small — on a regular basis with those who have the authority to help advance your career. Think about it: would you marry someone you went on a date with once a year? Then similarly, you should not expect to see great career advances (or new business prospects) when your primary opportunity to self-promote is infrequent.
- Cultivate allies. Notice I used the word “cultivate.” Much like you must self-promote to achieve your career goals, so too, must you self-promote to get allies who will back up what you are saying or speak on your behalf behind closed doors. These allies have a two-fold impact. First, there is strength in numbers. When multiple people confirm what you are saying and sing your praises, it reinforces the message and makes your accomplishments memorable. Second, when you realize others are validating your accomplishments, then it tames your imposter syndrome.
- Be strategic. In order to be effective with self-promotion, you must be strategic. Understand the power dynamics and workplace politics that are at play. Know who is influential so you can wisely focus your time and efforts. For example, if the person you work for directly does not have the ultimate say in what your salary or bonus will be, then find out who does have that authority and start finding reasons to connect and self-promote with that person.
- Practice. Since promoting yourself can feel awkward, practice with people you trust and who will give you honest feedback. If you don’t have anyone in your circle who fits that criteria, then practice in the mirror or videotape yourself. Take a critical look at what you see. How is your body language? How is your vocabulary? Do you seem comfortable or uncomfortable? You want to practice until you look comfortable sharing your success in a genuinely enthusiastic way. One trick I use is to pretend I am sharing the news with my father, who is now deceased. My dad was so happy to hear about my career successes, so it was easy to share my stories with genuine enthusiasm and pride in my voice. When you come from a place of genuine sharing, rarely do you come across as a braggart.
- Practice self-care. The effects of bias can be exhausting. Pushing yourself to stretch beyond your comfort zone can be exhausting. Sometimes promoting yourself can feel fake and artificial. That is why it is important to do things that take care of your spirit. Perhaps it is talking to the diversity person at your place of employment or people from your employee resource group or affinity bar. Perhaps it is taking some time to recharge your batteries away from your colleagues. Do whatever fills your spirit on a regular basis. This will give you the strength to keep accomplishing good things and the ability to keep sharing those accomplishments.
Self-promotion is an essential component of success in the practice of law. Despite the awkwardness and imperfection of self-promotion and the lingering effects of bias, keep trying to master this art. Rather than focus on the short-term discomfort of self-promotion, think about how this is an essential element of achieving your long-term career goals. With practice, these tips will increase your self-confidence and help you achieve the success you seek.