Own Your Narrative

“There is no shame in helping others see your value.”

For many firms, autumn is the time you are asked to write your “I love me” memo. We thought this would be a good time to talk about self-promotion, since a common lament among many of our alumnae is that they don’t like to be a self-promoter. Yet, they see their male counterparts getting more money and higher status by doing just that. 

Let’s start by reframing the meaning of self-promotion from “boasting” to “making all of your achievements visible”. I think we can all agree that it is critical to make your achievements visible because, as Wall Street CEO Sallie Krawcheck says, “All of the important decisions about your career are made when you are not in the room.” If you don’t control the narrative, you may be subject to other people’s distortions, mis-interpretations, biases, or false perceptions.

If the idea of self-promotion makes you cringe, here are some things to think about:

Speak The “Love Language” Of Management. Make sure you understand all the metrics you will be measured against. Since numbers can be interpreted in many ways, be sure to articulate the best possible narrative about your numbers. Identify trends over time if they are supportive to your story. If relevant, don’t forget to discuss things like leverage, realization rates, and utilization rates. 

Express Enthusiasm Instead Of “Bragging”. If you are uncomfortable with saying something like “I just successfully negotiated a really complex deal.” try expressing enthusiasm instead. “I really enjoyed negotiating this complex matter. We got a great result and the client has asked us to do more work for them.” or, “I was thrilled to work with X to bring in X matter.”

Let The Facts Speak For Themselves. If your accomplishments are straightforward, let the facts speak for themselves. “I brought in X new matters that generated X in revenue.” or, “My client list increased by 25% over the last 12 month period from X to Y. I expect to see a commensurate increase in revenue in the next several months.”

Know Your Firm’s Current Strategic Plan And Where Your Practice Fits In. When describing your practice, be sure to tie your narrative into your firm’s larger strategic goals. Comment on where you think your practice is headed in the future and how you plan to adapt to the opportunities and/or threats that you see given the current political, economic, and regulatory environment. 

Apply The “If Not For Me” Standard. Subjective contributions can be the hardest to articulate. As you reflect on your year, think about what you accomplished and ask yourself, “What if I hadn’t been there?” What size team did you manage? How much revenue did they generate? Would the associates you worked with have been mentored? What did they do as a result of the mentoring? How many clients asked for more work based on your efforts?

Don’t Assume People Know What Your Intentions AreIf you don’t articulate your intentions, people will fill in the blank based on their own experience and biases. For example, if you are coming back from maternity leave and you want to be promoted, be sure to articulate that clearly.

Finally, think about who will be in the room when you are evaluated. Do you have an advocate? In WLF, we recommend you cultivate your own Personal Board of Directors – your mentors, your sponsors, your confidantes. Make sure they are in a position to advocate for you.

“Self-promotion is a leadership and political skill that is critical to master in order to navigate the realities of the workplace and position you for success.”

– Bonnie Marcus

We have pulled together the following steps to help you on your journey to own your narrative.

1. Take some time to think about what you want your narrative to be. Write it down. 

2. Once you have determined your aspirational narrative, ask yourself if what you are doing aligns with that narrative. Identify any changes you need to make.

3. Identify your mentors and sponsors. Make sure they know your narrative and intentions.

4. Create an “I love me” email folder to save all accomplishments as they happen in addition to all complementary emails from clients and colleagues. 

5. Ask a friend to tell you if they see any additional accomplishments you might have missed. 

Are you an alum of the Women’s Leadership Forum? We’d love to keep in touch with you! Request to join us in our private Facebook group, or connect with Susan on LinkedIN and send me a note that you’d like to