Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Message from the Cheap Seats

Margaret Thatcher did not leave us too many quotable quotes over which to marvel down the years but there is one that is particularly memorable.

When asked about being powerful, Baroness Thatcher said:
‘Being powerful is like being a lady; if you have to tell people you are, you’re not’.

It is the same for those who tell people they are ‘a visionary’, ‘a supermodel’, ‘a leader’, ‘a thinker’.

Believe me, if you are these things we (in the cheap seats) will know. If you feel a need to tell us you are something special, it is almost certain you are not.

The Beatles never described themselves as a ‘supergroup’, others did that. But when hit with a UK Supertax on their earnings George wryly observed, ‘since we have been told we must pay a supertax then maybe we are a supergroup!’ Then he went off to write arguably his best song, ‘Taxman’ which further cemented the Beatles supergroup status.

In a classic experiment conducted in the mid-eighties, 100 undergraduates, divided into same-sex pairs, participated in two unstructured conversations spaced one week apart. In the second session, one subject of the pair was asked to participate either as an ingratiator or as a self-promoter. After the second conversation, ingratiators were rated as more likable but no more competent, and self-promoters were rated as less likable but also no more competent than in first conversation. Naive target subjects clearly recognised presenters attempting to appear competent and reacted negatively to them.

Confirmation that self-promotion doesn’t work. And what’s worse, it’s even less effective than ingratiation, and everyone hates ingratiation!

From time to time I will have a staff member who has produced an elegant piece of work complain to me that a colleague or a superior has taken credit for it. My response is: ‘Those who matter know, and those who don’t know don’t matter’ (and if this doesn’t happen through ‘Karma’, then we make sure it happens through other means!). One cannot pass oneself off as something one is not for very long and get away with it, nor can one claim someone else’s work as one’s own and get away with it. We who have been around for a while, or even if we have just arrived on the scene, know what’s what and who’s who.

A frequent question from the mentees I attempt to help with their development is ‘how do I get on’. This often includes asking me how to promote themselves. My advice is, be measured. Present yourself honestly and openly through your genuine achievements and impress people with your energy and ambition and excitement in what you are doing and what you are hoping to achieve; get out there and build a network, learn from it and give back to it. We in the cheap seats can immediately see an overstated CV or bio for what it is – inflated; the self-promotion is blindingly obvious, and CVs and bios that are written that way are quickly consigned to the waste paper basket. Similarly on websites, in blogs, on Facebook, LinkedIn and wherever, those who are trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, or to portray achievements as more than they are stand out like the ribcage of a racing Greyhound.

Maggie Thatcher did not have to tell people she was powerful, we all got that as we get that the Beatles were a supergroup; her mere presence and their wonderful music did all the talking for them.

So, relax, do your good work, we in the cheap seats will notice you and we will promote you.

Peter Carter
March 2015

Self-promotion is not ingratiating.
Godfrey, Debra K.; Jones, Edward E.; Lord, Charles G.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 50(1), Jan 1986, 106-115.http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.50.1.106

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