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December 08, 2006
I've always heard you've got to blow your own horn, because no on else is going to blow it for you.
For most of us, though, blowing our own horn is pretty hard to do. I'm always worried about coming across as a blowhard. So, how do we find the line that separates useful updates on your accomplishments and capabilities from anti-social bragging?
I think the answer is to stay focused on the big picture. Knowing what it is you are accomplishing can help you determine when to speak up and when to sit quietly.
Good for your organization
Sharing your accomplishments and growth with peers in your professional community, but outside your immediate work environment, can be extremely beneficial to your organization's mission or your company's bottom line.
Many of these people are customers (or potential customers) who can help bring in new revenue and new mission, or help to cement your existing mission. Its human nature to want to be associated with success, and given a choice everyone would prefer to do business with organizations that treat their employees as they themselves would want to be treated.
Looked at from another angle, these potential customers might be more easily converted to actual customers if they see your business as a dynamic, growing organization whose employees can continually adapt and grow to meet new requirements. If you are growing and accomplishing new goals the odds are good that your co-workers are too, and that sounds like an organization that can get things done.
Good for your career
Advertising your accomplishments is also clearly good for your own career. While you are helping to grow your organization by helping potential customers see your organization as dynamic and adaptive you are also advertising yourself. It may be that one of your peers in another organization (or another part of your organization) is looking for someone with the skills you've just acquired, or is looking for someone to grow into new role. Unlike the stock market where past performance is no guarantee of future success, past personal growth is a pretty good indicator that you'll continue to grow and adapt over the coming years.
And finding opportunities to showcase your accomplishments is also good for your career even if you stay in your present organization. It puts you in the running for promotions and awards, especially if you can encapsulate your successes into documentable (and actionable) nuggets.
Getting it done
So how do you do this? There are a few different options, and frankly you just have to find the one that's right for you and your style of interaction.
Some people belong to professional networks (like LinkedIn) where they maintain a network of contacts that they update periodically with significant accomplishments. You can achieve the same goal with an email list as well. The key here is infrequent, significant updates. Pick one or two big things every 12 or 18 months or so and update your most relevant contacts. You might even adapt your message to your goal for the contact. In other words, you might highlight different achievements to your boss than you would to a new potential co-PI or customer.
Other thoughts? Find opportunities to network and learn to work the room. Conferences, professional societies, and standards meetings can be a great place to interact with potential customers, partners, and future employers. Your own organization's social functions can help you stay in contact with parts of your company that you don't usually get to see. It can also be helpful to add professional information to your personal blog or web presence, provided that your personal life isn't totally at odds with your professional one.
As with most new things, I suggest taking small steps and incrementally expanding your comfort zone. As you figure out what works for you, you may find yourself keeping a journal of accomplishments to share throughout the year. Blowing your own horn might seem a little self-serving at first, but upon reflection I think you'll agree it's good for you, your company, and your profession.
(I'd like to send a special thanks to Dave S. for writing in and raising this issue as something we should talk about. We had a great conversation, and I thought it would be useful to share it. Got a question you'd like to talk about? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
West is the director of a Top 20 supercomputing center and author of The Only Trait of a Leader (www.onlytraitofaleader.com), a book and blog about leadership and career skills for technology professionals. Contact him at email@example.com.
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