The Self- Promotion Gene

By April 12, 2018Executive Coaching

The young woman I coach sent a frantic message: “I really need to talk! Are you available tonight?” She learned that afternoon that the new CEO not only passed her over for the promotion but now had her reporting to her rival for that bigger job. Distraught doesn’t begin to capture what was going on for her and she needed a shoulder to lean on; maybe next week we could begin to talk about next steps.

“My problem is that I focus on doing great work and thought that would be enough;” she sniffed. “Vivian spends her time telling others how good she is.”

I’m sure there are some sour grapes in that mash but my poor, sad client was on to something: too many of us believe that others will just notice us and our work; talking about our own strengths and accomplishments is unnecessary and vaguely embarrassing.

We’ve all endured the snarky self-promotion of colleagues. That director who has never made his numbers but spent the entire leadership retreat talking golf and football with the board members. Why is he never called on his poor performance? Or, that woman who attends every meeting and monopolizes the speaking, seems to do no real work, treats everyone like her staff, claims credit for everyone else’s ideas and gets every “Mover and Shaker” award possible. These people and the many others like them get my goat.

Positive self-promotion is an art and a science and some people just seem have the gene for it! My closest women friends would say that I am the one in our circle who does it best, but when I dig deep among the start-ups, the self-help experts, the small business owners and the authors of self-published books, I realize how much I have to learn.

Appropriate self-promotion is a skill that can be developed and coached. There are different kinds of self-promotion, to be sure. When I coach people, we work on how to make sure the client is comfortable talking about his or her strengths and accomplishments without sounding arrogant – particularly if the client is female! But there are a host of other skills to learn to promote yourself effectively and authentically. Articles on LinkedIn are meshed with public speaking opportunities, followed by tweets and video from the event itself. Hash tags on Instagram allow your followers to track down your message, respond to you and share your posts. Your following builds. Or not. But successful self-promotion takes attention and work, and, done with authenticity, finds its mark.

But let me give you an example of self-promotion at its best. Sonja Schwartzbach, (, a young, 30– something millennial, quit a promising career in media to go back to nursing school and do something that she felt would be important in the world. Now working as a critical care nurse and loving it, she found herself explaining “why” to her former media colleagues. She also missed some of the creativity she used in her media role and so she started a blog, “Unapologetically a Nurse,” describing her new career. She did some targeted self-promotion and Scrubs Magazine, a trade journal for nurses, picked up her blog. From there she became a blogger for the Huffington Post, all the while working a very stressful, difficult job as a cardiothoracic ICU nurse.

Her following on Huffington grew. Then Sonja wrote her first book, in her spare time at a coffee shop, and self-published it on Amazon. Oh, Sh*t, I Almost Killed You! A Little Book of Big Things Nursing School Forgot to Teach You has sold out on Amazon NINE times in one year! It is currently the #1 eBook in nursing and the #3 printed book in medical humor and all the promotion for the book has come from Sonja and her followers!

I don’t know how she does it. She works in a highly stressful job. She takes graduate school classes. She’s working on her second book. She puts up Instagram posts daily for her 23,000 followers and her posts are encouraging and inspiring and loaded with hash tags. She offers messages of empowerment. She speaks to issues that are important to her. She gives keynote speeches and wins mover and shaker awards in her field. She’s an influencer and a hard-working, authentic self-promoter.

People like Sonja teach us that there is nothing embarrassing in believing in yourself and sharing your story. She is honest and has something to say. I’m learning from her example and cheering her every success.

Sometimes I’d wish she’d tell me how to get The Crone a book deal…but I know she’d tell me that first I have to write the book.

“Heroes must see to their own fame. No one else will.” ― Gore Vidal

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Darnell Newsum says:

    I felt like you wrote that for me! And, yes, the self-promotion gene can be developed and enhanced! Thanks for providing a path. And, you will write that book!