The Art of Self Promotion and Being Humble

I’m not a big fan of categorizing people into buckets, but I have always considered myself the Alpha male, the leader and the chief.  I can carry on a conversation with just about anyone, I’m fairly decent at most sports, and I am absolutely positive the results from my work are the best out of all my peers…or so I thought.  I can take control of a room with ease.

About a year ago a new boss was hired over me from outside the organization.

He’s the polar opposite, the Omega male.  He’s non-confrontational, awkward in social settings (think Big Bang Theory), and typically stays in his office most of the day. Matter of fact, our only interaction is a 30 minute one-on-one session once a week (which he’s rarely on time for).  His tardiness was infuriating to say the least since I’ve been taught throughout my professional life to not only be on time, but to be early to meetings.

I found myself doing his job for him most of the time, and even had him tell me that I can continue doing what I thought was his role in the company.  This involved high level negotiations with vendors, managing a multiple projects, and even the hiring and firing of employees.  I never minded doing any of this and even preferred it, but now someone was telling me I MUST do this because he didn’t want to.  What I didn’t hear was he wanted me to do all of this because I was better than him at it.  He was trying to build upon one of my strengths and his weakness.

For a full year I struggled with accepting him as my leader.  I’ve led men into combat, I had been doing my job well for over 2 years.  How was the “F”ing new guy going to teach me anything or help advance my own career if he took a back seat to work?  My “superior” ego told me to confront him on every decision, after all, my decisions are the best, right?  This ego lead to daily struggles just to do my job.  I was angry I was being told what to do by someone so inferior.

To further the struggle, my company had pushed back our move date to a new facility by 6 months. This impacted my daily 1 1/2 hour commute, the new facility was only 30 minutes each way.  I showed up to work looking to pick a fight every day.

Last summer I left for 3 weeks for my annual National Guard training.  My Omega boss was out of the office the 3 weeks prior while he was moving his family.  Ahhh, finally, 6 weeks away from him.  This was going to be a much needed break, right?  WRONG!  When I returned I found everything I had been working on for the past year had been dismantled over the 3 weeks I was out of the office.  WTF?!?!  I couldn’t believe it, I was beyond furious! I had worked hard on these projects, and they were going to save the business millions. How could someone who has no clue what I do everyday change everything I had been working on?

Then it hit me, I was not the rockstar manager I thought I was.  I failed in one key aspect, I failed to make others (specifically my boss) realized the importance of my work.  The message I had worked to develop was not conveyed in a logical manner, no one understood what I was trying to accomplish. Therefore, in the eyes of someone from the outside, the projects were of little to no value.  Don’t get me wrong, the work I was doing was solid, but my boss couldn’t understand what was going on in my head if I wasn’t there to explain it. I had to learn to “manage up”, I had to learn it fast!

The hardest part about doing this was I had to check my ego.  Gone were the days of “I know everything, let me do my work”.  I had to spend just as much time coaching my boss on everything going on in my world and WHY.  It wasn’t enough to simply tell him what I was doing, I had to make him understand why I was doing something the same way I had to explain why to the folks that report to me.

Here’s what I learned:

  1. Check your ego at the door.  There’s no room for know-it-alls in the office.  No one person know everything.  You can always learn something from anyone as long as you are open to it.
  2. Manage up.  It’s YOUR responsibility to ensure your boss knows what, why, and how you are doing your job.  I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but no one cares about your career more than you do.
  3. Play chess, not checkers.  Everything you do should be strategic in nature.  Choose your battles wisely.  I’ve always had the most difficulty with this one.  Defenses will get put up as soon as you go in a full frontal attack, so attack the flanks.  If possible, the person your trying to defeat (or win over) shouldn’t even know they’re being attacked.  If you’re having trouble with this, see number 1.
  4. Make your boss and your subordinates look like rockstars.  I’ve often had trouble with this one as well until I put it into action.  The benefits of this are more indirect though.  What this did in my situation was create a more positive environment which in turn made my daily grind much more bearable.  It also allowed a couple of my subordinates get promoted to other positions within the organization.  This in turn created more allies in the trenches and improved moral.
  5. Keep an open mind that others aren’t geared like you are.  The most important lesson this has taught me is that everyone doesn’t have the same agenda as you, their goals aren’t the same.  No one cares about this particular cost savings project or potential sale.  It doesn’t impact their lives except it gives them more work, so why should they care.  It’s your job to understand this and learn to influence people by playing to whatever motivates them.  In this case, it was my boss only wanted me to take the initiative so he could focus on his strengths, he just didn’t know how to convey this message.

So why did I do this?  First and foremost was a promotion.  I had been in my role for a few years, and I was becoming stagnant.  I’m hardwired to have a very strict, predetermined career path through the 17 years of military experience.  So not having my professional civilian career mapped exactly was exasperating.  I had to do something or I would have taken the easy way out and found another position.  At the beginning of my company’s fiscal year I asked for a raise along the premise of “I deserve it”.  Yea, this was my whole argument.  My boss’s question was why?  WHY?! How dare you ask me why?  My work is fantastic, and I’ve saved millions.

What I didn’t know was my boss didn’t care about how much I saved, that wasn’t how he measured me.  I had to do a little digging to find out how he measured me.  Truth be told, I still don’t know.  However, I do know that he wants to understand the why.  That’s my boss’s thing…why.  It’s that simple.  I recently began explained every single thing I was doing and why I was doing it.  So now instead of me asking for a promotion, it was my boss coming to me with the promotion.

This time it was HIS idea!

Or so he thought.  The last 5 months I’ve spent getting my projects back on track and explaining these projects in greater detail.  I’ve also been thanking him for any critical feedback and asking for advise on things even when I knew what I was doing.  I have been trying to get my boss to take ownership of things, and he’s been doing a great job.  Now instead of our one-on-one meetings being confrontational, we can actually work on things together in an efficient manner.  We’re building a partnership, the by-product is, of course, a promotion…the thing I was after all along.

If you found this useful or just enjoyed reading about my struggles please like, share, leave a comment, or all of the above!

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