On Being Instrumental

A pair of conversations yesterday got me thinking about self-promotion. What is it, who’s “good at it”, and why some are “good at it” while others “aren’t”. The first came in the morning, when Kelly Wuest drew my attention to this Chronicle article about recognition. As my first Student Leadership Award ceremony at Emmanuel approaches, it was a timely read. To sum up, it discusses how some who exhibit quiet or humble leadership don’t get recognized because they don’t speak up for themselves, and how some of those quiet leaders miss recognition opportunities because it is assumed by nominators that someone else will speak up for the person. I experienced the latter firsthand in a conversation with my director the other day. He was lamenting the lack of a leadership award nomination for our SGA president, who had served dutifully for several years with the board. Of the staff in our office, he has worked with her the most closely. But when I asked if he had nominated her, he shook his head and admitted he hadn’t. This fell true to form with an example given in the story: a young woman given an award in her senior year was awarded it with the remark, “You must have several of these.” But she didn’t. So many people assumed that someone else would recognize her, that NO ONE recognized her.

The second conversation was sparked by a question from Eric Felix, who asked if the Latino propensity to encourage humility and reserved behavior lessened their ability to be recognized for good work. This intrigued me- as a child of immigrant parents, who are highly accomplished (at least in my estimation) but rarely vocal about it, I am interested in what role culture and temperament play in recognition. We don’t brag in my house, and that carries over into my professional life. Even when I have done something good, I rarely speak up. That can range from something as personal as letting someone know what I’m working on (articles, books, presentations), or something professional, like not self-nominating myself for an award, even if given the option. From the responses to Eric’s question, I can tell that I’m not alone in that tendency.

Whatever the reason, be it temperament or culture, some simply won’t speak up to be recognized, even if others might feel that they deserve it. So how is this tension to be resolved? I will not claim to be an authority on the matter, but I have a few ideas.

Acknowledge it. Too many contemporary practices of career counseling and office etiquette emphasize the dominant culture’s request to speak up for oneself, and “toot the proverbial horn”. But alternatives need to be recognized. Not everyone plays that instrument (hence the title of this post). For whatever reason, some simply aren’t built that way. Don’t treat it as odd or problematic, acknowledge it for what it is.

Give credit where credit is due. Although I am not a self-promoter (it doesn’t come naturally to me), I do acknowledge good work where I see it. I pride myself on being a prompt gratitude giver, and I like to give it in a way that is comfortable for me and lasting for the person- thank you notes. It’s not everyone’s style, but I would never want anyone to think I didn’t appreciate what he or she did for me.

But this prompt gratitude giving has a side effect I had never expected- it serves as a reminder of one’s good work. That is to say, those who do good work but don’t recognize those around them can disappear. But when relationships are built, such as when one acknowledges the good work of another, your name can come to mind more easily when opportunities to nominate come around. So even as you go about your work quietly, acknowledge the good work of those around you. As a related point to that…

Don’t wait! Don’t wait for “banquet season” to roll around when recognizing good work or a good deed. Part of giving good recognition is making it timely and specific. Saying in the moment, “I appreciate you for [this]” is far more helpful than “Good job overall at [this set time]”. Being noticed is one thing, being memorable is another. Both are nice 🙂

Know your subject. A final note to consider: treat someone as they would want to be treated. Praise can be given in a number of ways, and some people are more comfortable with some types than others. For those who aren’t self-promoters, it can occasionally follow that they don’t want over-the-top public praise when it does arrive. Being recognized in a public forum isn’t for everyone, and striving to learn what method of recognition fits the person you’re honoring gives it an extra level of personal care. Consider a thank you card, small gift in a mailbox or a quick conversation for those who don’t like PDA, or public displays of appreciation 🙂

What does recognition look like in your office? Do you speak up for your good work? How about the good work of others?

5 thoughts on “On Being Instrumental

  1. Really interesting post, Amma! The conversation it took me most back to one I had with the old director of FSU SAC (from my first year) – We were discussing almost this same issue, and he shared with me that he felt a definite part of his job was handling the bragging for his staff. Whenever we achieved something (sometimes a small publication, maybe in the Campus Activities magazine, sometimes a big event we were working on/had just gotten through), he helped us get word out around campus. This also helped strengthen office culture and create a norm that we were always aware of the work being done around us. Additionally, the rest of campus was always tuned into the great things being done in our office and were excited to partner with us on upcoming projects. Having an advocate like that working on everyone’s behalf can really be a powerful force, not only externally but also in terms of internal team morale and camaraderie.

    I’d also add that as a practitioner, I genuinely made it a goal to sit down and right highly descriptive, but honest award nominations whenever the end of the year ceremonies came up. I think it’s important to think through the whole staff that works for you, with you, and above you in the org structure and who might be deserving of praise. Forcing yourself through that process really makes you take pause at the accomplishments of your coworkers and consider who might be ordinarily passed over or taken for granted. It is great to win awards, but nothing beats having a nomination that you wrote read for someone that truly deserves it. I almost jumped out of my seat with joy when Billie Pope (our outgoing contract administrator) got a big award in her last year after decades of incredible hard work.

    Again, great post!

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