Self Promotion in the Boardroom

How to appropriately showcase your skills and abilities as a director

Within boardrooms all around the world you will have no trouble finding plenty of company directors who are not backwards in coming forwards about their particular prowess. A little confidence goes a long way in the boardroom; however, there are a number of incredibly valuable board members who actually find it challenging to assert themselves and showcase the value they have just waiting to be tapped into.

My dear friend is one such person. I promised her I would do some research and write a post, because I am certain that she isn’t the only board member struggling with this challenge.

By nature, we generally find it very difficult to self-promote. In Australia it seems that we all suffer a degree of ‘tall poppy syndrome’. And this makes it even harder for us to demonstrate our unique skills, knowledge, and abilities – we don’t want to come across as ‘up ourselves’ or get embarrassingly shot down in flames.

However, done well, effective self-promotion strikes the balance between being self-confident about our skills, without being arrogant and egotistical.

Kristi Hedges, executive presence guru, suggests reframing self-promotion to be about “idea promotion”. Hedges believes that there are ways for leaders to stand out by making the effort to be different in a way that draws positive attention. This can be done successfully through subtle changes in approach and behaviour, contributing to making a leader more influential and engaging.

With an American husband, I personally feel that us Aussies could do ourselves a favour if we took a (small) leaf out of their self-promotion playbook. I had to laugh when I then discovered a Harvard Business Review article that talked about this exact topic titled “How to Adapt to American-Style Self-Promotion”.

In addition to promoting an idea rather than yourself, the authors of this article recommend that you find the level of self-promotion that falls within the “zone of appropriateness”, find a level of self-promotion that is within your comfort zone, and consider finding yourself a mentor that can help you with self-promotion.

Break out of your shell

Much like any new behaviour, practice makes perfect. Here are things that you can do to appropriately self promote in the boardroom:

  • Take leadership opportunities. Kristi Hedges suggests volunteering to chair meetings that people usually dislike. Most of these meetings are poorly run, have the wrong (or none) objectives, take too much time, and don’t have actionable outcomes and responsibilities. This provides an ideal opportunity for you to stand out and showcase your abilities.
  • Learn how to present to an audience. Kristi Hedges has some great suggestions in her post here. Being comfortable presenting to any size crowd focuses you more on your message, and not on freaking out about everyone looking at you.
  • Find your idea/cause. Rather than focus on you that needs promoting, consider yourself the idea vehicle, and not the primary beneficiary.
  • Network. Networking with your fellow board members to share your ideas and thoughts in a more ‘comfortable’ environment (i.e. one on one) enables you to influence and appropriately promote your ideas.
  • Remain authentic. Think more self-awareness and knowing the real value you can offer others, and less ‘used car salesman’.
  • Work to find your self-promotion ‘comfort level’. It should sit somewhere between what’s appropriate and what feels natural.

You don’t have to shout from the rooftops to be noticed; however, you don’t want to leave it to chance that a fellow board member knows you and your expertise well enough and actively encourages your contributions in this area.

How do you ensure you’re seen and heard in the boardroom?

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Sources and recommended reading:

The Cure for People Who Hate to Self-Promote by Kristi Hedges

Two Easy Times to Stand Out And Get Noticed (Without Being Obnoxious) by Kristi Hedges

How to Adapt to American-Style Self-Promotion by Andy Molinsky and Dorie Clark for Harvard Business Review

Self-Promotion for Professionals from Countries Where Bragging Is Bad by Dorie Clark and Andy Molinsky for Harvard Business Review

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