Aspiring Business Leaders: Why and How to Market Yourself

June 2019

Image: iStock

For women seeking leadership roles in the workplace, getting noticed for your talents, skills and connections requires a marketing plan … much like a company would promote its brand, products and services.

After listening to a podcast featuring Sally Helgesen, I realized budding business leaders should apply many of the same marketing tactics we use at Twirling Tiger Media to advance our clients’ brand. The intention is to engage, attract, acquire and create loyalty to gain visibility and, in the case of self-promotion, upward mobility.

Helgesen is a best-selling author, speaker and leadership coach whose most recent book, How Women Rise, co-authored with Marshall Goldsmith, identifies detrimental communication and cultural gaps and how to close them for business leaders to advance. 

In her podcast, Helgesen shared that in advance of a speaking engagement on leadership, she typically sends the intended audience a pulse quiz, and her surveys often reveal two top concerns, below. (Keep in mind that Helgesen says “these are human behaviors, but these are the behaviors that are most likely to hold women back from achieving their fullest potential.”)

1. Expecting others to spontaneously notice and value your contributions, rather than speaking up about those successes and getting noticed for them yourself.  

Helgesen contends that people are busy and distracted, and it’s your responsibility to learn how to get noticed. How? Create a personal look-at-me marketing project: 

  • Prove your value to others by listing and sharing what you contribute, aim to achieve, and steps you’re taking to meet your goals. It’s useful information for others to know what you’re doing, along with the skills and connections you have.
  • Get comfortable establishing allies. Don’t be afraid to say, “Put in a good word for me!” 
  • Don’t focus on what you didn’t do right, and don’t be so hard on yourself.

As women business owners, early in our venture, we fell into this trap by neglecting to identify and articulate our expertise as strategic partners to our clients as one of our core capabilities. A mentor pointed out our successful track record in this role, and we then promoted it as part of our services.

2. Overvaluing expertise. 

Helgesen maintains that many women believe that if you become expert enough at what you’re doing, that will serve you well and help you get promoted to the job you want. She explains that women overinvest in becoming expert in what they’re doing, and underinvest in nurturing the visibility and the connections they need to help propel them forward. And, your reputation is further stymied when you’re a one-trick pony: Others see that you’re expert-level at a specific job, but fail to envision you in another more expanded role in the future.

Women leaders should also avoid the toxic aspects of perfectionism. Helgesen says, “When you identify as a perfectionist, you’re missing the broader view. Perfectionism tags you as a micromanager and creates a lot of stress for yourself and others.” Helgesen suggests this may be attributed to women being judged differently early in their careers. In the podcast, she mentions research that found male counterparts tend to get rewarded and promoted based on their big-picture thinking, connections and visibility. In contrast, women are rewarded and promoted for being precise and correct in what they do. At higher leadership levels, this behavior doesn’t translate well as women seek to move up the ladder.

And there’s the “disease to please.” “Yes, it makes you a likable person,” according to Helgesen, “but how can you strike out bravely playing it safe?” She says don’t be averse to risk taking and big-picture thinking. Generosity burnout depletes your energy, often leading to strained relationships or poor job satisfaction.

Helgesen cautions, “When women fail to promote themselves, the negative result is that they can begin to feel disengaged.” Bold moves in a work environment involve some risk, but your reluctance to push ahead may never reap rewards. Identify your weaknesses and engage the support of other people to help you achieve long-term sustainable behavioral change. Diversify your skills, and use creative thinking to solve problems. Let the world know about your accomplishments to realize your full potential, but with brevity … no need for a tome. And, apply the Rule of Seven to your messaging plan.

Thank you for reading this.

Maureen Joyce

Listen to the podcast, How to Reach Your Full Potential—with Sally Helgesen, here: