“On great teams—the kind where people trust each other, engage in open conflict, and then commit to decisions—team members have the courage and confidence to confront one another when they see something that isn’t serving the team.”
Sofia was floored when during a team meeting, her coworker stood up to present a project they’d been working on together. They hadn’t planned to share their results until next week. Using materials she’d helped to create, he described it as his project and announced his results. What should I do? Sofia thought frantically.
If one of your coworkers keeps reframing your ideas as his own at meetings, or if your colleague went so far as to present your strategy to your boss, you need to take action. Avoiding conflict in such scenarios would harm the whole team. Tread carefully, though, or you could end up accused of stealing credit from others.
If someone rephrases your ideas as his own…
If a coworker is continually restating points you have made at a meeting and framing them as his own, he might be doing it unconsciously. That doesn’t mean it’s okay, but it helps inform how you should respond.
- Before saying anything, calm down. Losing your temper could make you look irrational—fair or not. Plus, you won’t get your thoughts across clearly if you’re angry.
- Address the transgression tactfully but directly in the moment, if possible. For example, if a coworker restates your idea, say, “Yes, that’s exactly the point I was making. I’m glad you agree with the idea.”
- If it keeps happening, approach the person one-on-one and ask if you can talk with him. Remember, if someone is repeatedly claiming your ideas as their own, it’s probably a sign of insecurity—so be gentle, or you’ll put him on the defensive. Affirm that you fully believe it wasn’t intentional, and validate the person’s contributions so acknowledging his mistake won’t feel as hard. For instance, you might say: “I’m sure it wasn’t intentional, but a couple of times during the meeting, I felt you were framing X idea as your own when I introduced it earlier on. I’m happy that this idea resonated with you, because I appreciate the expertise you bring and would love to get your insight on similar ideas in the future.”
- If the issue keeps occurring, mention it during a one-on-one meeting with your boss. Focus on your desire to strengthen working relationships, stick to the facts, and maintain a positive tone. “I think Coworker Y has many strengths, and I hope he’ll become secure enough in his own ideas that he doesn’t unconsciously lay claim to those of others,” you might say.
If someone presents your idea or success as her own…
Say you believe a coworker has stolen your idea outright, and presented it to your boss or team as her own. Or say your coworker took credit for your work on a big project. You don’t want to look like a pushover by letting it go, but you don’t want to obsess so much about the transgression that you look irrational or insecure.
- Again, calm yourself down before taking any action so you’re fully in control of your words.
- Try to find out if there’s any way it could have been unintentional. Maybe you were brainstorming together, and she inaccurately remembered the idea as being her own. Or maybe you worked on the project together, and she accidentally left out your contribution during a meeting out of nervousness. Talk with her one-on-one, and phrase your question in a non-accusatory way so you won’t be sabotaging a working relationship. Give her a chance to apologize, but if she doesn’t, push back, says Karen Dillon in HR Guide to Office Politics. Making it uncomfortable for her to continue the behavior will deter it from happening again.
- Get support from other team members, if others know for certain that the idea was yours. Ask them to acknowledge your contribution in the next meeting, or in a team email. If the coworker at fault sees you have support, she may back down.
- If the offense was truly egregious—for example, if a coworker took your name off a presentation you created and presented it as her own—meet with your boss to explain what happened, sharing evidence to support your case.
If someone repeatedly takes credit for your work…
- Keep a log showing details about what happened and when.
- Find out if colleagues have experienced the same behavior from this coworker. Gather your evidence of the transgressions.
- Talk to your boss about the situation, along with any other coworkers who have been affected. Stay collected and share evidence, if you have it. Rather than badmouthing the coworker at fault, focus on your desire to feel heard and to create a harmonious office dynamic.
- Help create a culture of sharing credit by always highlighting the contributions of others.
Preventing idea theft
Work to prevent theft of your ideas by documenting them well. If you share them, share them with more than one person so you don’t end up in a “he said/she said” scenario. Better yet, share them electronically, so there’s a record.
Remember, too, that one idea isn’t everything. You’ll have other great ideas, and you can be more conscientious about how to share them in the future. Don’t fixate so much on remedying this issue that it keeps you from shining in other ways, or makes you look petty. If you focus on the future, others will notice your stellar performance and give you plenty of credit for it!
Contact leadership coach Joel for more advice on promoting your work and building a strong reputation.
“Stars don’t beg the world for attention; their beauty forces us to look up.”
Amelia asks: I’ve grown a lot more confident over the past year at my job. Now I need to learn how to stand out at work, because I’m looking toward a promotion. What steps should I take to make that happen?
Joel replies: Maybe you’ve played it safe in the past, figuring your good work should speak for itself. But you’re right—it won’t. You need a plan for catching the eye of those with influence in your organization, or they’ll never notice you. You need to speak up, be more confident and assertive at work.
- Create a Personal Brand
Just as products need branding, so do people. Here’s how to create your personal brand:
- Ask yourself what qualities make you who you are, including your shortcomings and idiosyncrasies. People who stand out at work are known for being their authentic selves. They know how to highlight their best qualities while asking for feedback in areas where they want to grow.
- Consider your career goals—where do you want to go next? That will guide what you want to be known for.
- Choose projects that highlight those strengths, rather than just saying “yes” to any work that comes your way. In doing so, you’ll craft a reputation as a person who’s great at the particular kind of work that really fuels you.
- Track your successes so you’re always ready to describe them—say, in an impromptu conversation with that exec you’ve been wanting to meet.
- Engage in Lifelong Learning
A person who remains perpetually curious, constantly looking for opportunities to grow, is sure to stand out at work. How can you do this?
- Take a class in something you want to know more about.
- Find a buddy from another department and teach each other about your roles, so you both understand the organization better.
- Read a book about a skill you want to master.
- Support a Good Cause
Either way, becoming known as someone who cares about the broader world will build you up in the eyes of others. Here are a couple ways of doing that:
- Start volunteering with a nonprofit, if you don’t already. Casually mention to coworkers that you plan to volunteer over the weekend.
- Hang a flyer for a donation drive on the bulletin board, and mention to coworkers that you’re supporting it. Make sure not to sound pushy or self-righteous about it.
- Embrace Failure
People who stand out don’t hide behind small, safe successes—they seek out risks and take them. Of course, they’re smart about which risks are worthwhile, choosing ones they have a good chance of conquering. You won’t achieve them all, but you’ll enjoy some very exciting successes when you start seizing the day in these ways:
- Ask yourself what risks you need to take to get where you really want to go.
- Dive into a project that stretches your abilities, really challenging you.
- Share the good news—and its measurable results—with coworkers and superiors when you succeed.
- Speak Up in Meetings
Speaking up in meetings can be daunting, but it will get easier with time. Here are a few ways to start:
- Figure out one topic on the agenda that you have a lot to say about. Prepare to ignite conversation on that topic.
- Bring creative ideas that speak to the qualities you want to be known for.
- Ask insightful questions when others present ideas.
- Practice saying one thing that pops into your head at each meeting.
- Become a Mentor
Serving as a mentor to others will highlight both your expertise and your concern for the organization’s success. When your boss sees coworkers coming to you for advice, you’re sure to stand out. Here’s how to begin:
- Does your department have a new employee? Offer to show her the ropes. Just by being friendly and available to answer questions, you’ll start cultivating a strong relationship.
- Give coworkers advice about things you’re an expert on. Don’t beat them over the head with it—just share tidbits of information in conversations, and invite them to drop by your workspace if they show interest in learning more.
- Promote Yourself to a Leadership Position
There’s no need to ask for permission to become a leader. The best way to become known as a leader is to just start acting like one.
- Remember that cause you support? Organize a volunteer day for your office, explaining to your boss how this will build team spirit.
- Volunteer to lead meetings.
- Spearhead an exciting project, delegate responsibilities to team members, and give them positive feedback to coach them along.
If you take these steps, you’re sure to stand out at work. How you approach success makes a difference—you won’t be passively waiting for it, but actively reaching for it. That will mark you as a leader in the eyes of your boss and other decision-makers. In turn, this will boost your job security and lead to exciting opportunities for promotion.
Joel can help you boost your visibility among leaders and coworkers. If you want advance in your career, gain the deserved promotion or receive more work recognition, hire Joel for executive coaching.
“If you don’t toot your own horn, don’t complain that there’s no music.”
Janet Asks: I feel like my accomplishments go unnoticed at work and I’m not comfortable bringing them up. I want others to see my strengths and achievements, but I don’t want to come across as bragging. What should I do?
Joel Answers: No one wants to sound like they’re bragging about their own accomplishments. You want to be noticed, but not for being egotistical. However, there are plenty of ways to toot your own horn in a way that people admire and respect.
- Figure out what makes you interesting
Think about what makes you stand out at work. Do you have any hobbies most people don’t know about at work? Have you overcome any major challenges to get where you are? Figure out what aspects of your life make good stories. Sprinkle these tidbits of information into conversations at work, so coworkers see a richer picture of you.
- Create a compelling hook
Prepare how you’ll introduce yourself to new people. How can you summarize yourself in a sentence or two in a way that leaves others eager to hear more about what you do? When they have to coax more details out of you, no one will perceive you as bragging. However, don’t be too shy about opening up—when they ask, tell them more.
- Speak about recent accomplishments
When others ask what you’re doing at work these days, it’s the perfect opportunity to toot your own horn. Be prepared for those moments by mentally reviewing your latest accomplishments and current projects. Focusing on the work (rather than speaking directly about your strengths) will help you relax and start gushing about your achievements.
- Talk about your team
If you’re a manager, gushing about your team’s accomplishments shows you’re a great leader. Having pride in your team is a virtue for any leader. You won’t feel as self-conscious while focusing on them, though you’re actually speaking to your own leadership skills.
- Announce successes to organizational leaders
When you announce your successes to your boss or other leaders, no one will perceive it as bragging. They want and need to know what you’ve accomplished. In fact, it would be unprofessional not to tell them. Drop by your boss’s office; send higher-level leaders an email or give them a call, if the accomplishment seems important enough to announce to them.
- Believe in the importance of your role
When you truly believe in the positive impact you have every day, you’ll exude confidence and charisma. The enthusiasm you show for your work will draw others to you naturally. You’ll get boundless invitations to talk about how you do what you do. If you’ve gotten in a rut with your current job, reignite your passion for it by reminding yourself what you love about it and making small changes to liven up your routine.
- Get others to toot your horn
As you clue others in to your skills and achievements, they’ll naturally start tooting your horn as well, and your visibility will increase at work even more. However, it helps to ask for the support of people you trust. Cultivating relationships with advocates in your organization will build your credibility and help leaders take notice of you. Keep your advocates apprised of what you’ve accomplished, and if you’re after a promotion, tell them. People often take pride in helping others succeed.
If you were feeling awkward about tooting your own horn at work, these ideas will help those conversations feel more natural. Others will think it’s completely natural to share your achievements in these ways!
“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.”
Natalya couldn’t believe her company hired an outsider rather than promote her to the position she was vying for. She knew she had everything it would take to succeed in that role. She decided to reach out to an executive coach who was referred to her – I was the person she called! “It sounds like you are producing a tremendous amount of value for your company,” I said. “Now you need to learn how to promote yourself at work (and your actual impact), so others will appreciate and recognize your value.” Here’s the plan we created together.
- Track Your Accomplishments
When put on the spot, it can be tough to remember all the things you’ve done over the past year. Instead of relying on memory, keep a file of all your accomplishments and current projects. At a performance review, meeting with executives, or introduction to a new client, you’ll have just the right examples of particular skills or competencies you want to highlight.
- Write a Success Story About Yourself
Create a short “success story” about yourself so you’re always prepared for high-stakes conversations. The story is created by identifying the problem, determine the actions you took to help solve the problem and the overall results that you ultimately achieved. You’ll now know exactly how to promote yourself when talking to organizational leaders.
- Expand Upon Compliments
When someone gives you a compliment, view it as an invitation to say more about the work they’re praising. This will feel less awkward if you share a piece of quantifiable data to sum up what your accomplishment did for the company. Rather than sharing a subjective opinion (e.g., “I’m brilliant”), you’re sharing something objective. And by focusing on results and outcomes, you’re giving them information that can help guide decision-making.
- Promote the Work of Others
When you promote others, you give them positive feelings about you in turn. This encourages them to speak highly of you as well. It’s like cultivating alliances within your organization, only there’s nothing devious about it. You’re simply working toward your mutual success and building a culture of showingappreciation for good work. Likewise, when you lead your team to success, speak about what “we” accomplished rather than centering yourself. Your boss and team will know you showed great leadership, and they’ll see you as a great morale-builder when you share the success.
- Take on a High-Profile Project
Look for a high-profile project that others can’t help but notice. Outline exactly how you’ll devote time to this project while keeping up with our current workload. (Hint: Delegate as much as possible, which willalso show your leadership skills!) Taking on ambitious projects will build your visibility in the organization, preparing you to exert greater influence.
- Sing Your Own Praises to Superiors
Tell your boss, and your boss’s boss, what you’ve accomplished. Phrasing the news in the form of a “thank you” can make it feel less awkward—for example, you could say, “Thanks for the encouragement to pursue project X. I’m thrilled about the results.” In doing so, you’ll be strengthening these relationships by making others feel connected to your success. Then sum up what the project did for the company—again, citing measurable outcomes. Take a big-picture approach, focusing on how the achievement benefits the company. This not only feels less awkward but highlights your commitment to the organization’s success.
Look for opportunities to connect with higher-level leaders in your organization as well. If you hear about a meeting of organizational leaders and you feel you have something to contribute, ask an advocate if you can attend or send your input with him. You have little to lose by showing some ambition, and at the very least, you’re likely to put yourself on their radar. This is an excellent way to promote yourself at work.
You now have six tactics for promoting yourself that feel more natural. With these tricks in your pocket, it will feel easier to promote yourself at work. Joel can help you implement these tips and do what is necessary to get that promotion you feel you deserve. Email executive coach Joel Garfinkle now with the area you want to work on.
“The power of visibility can never be underestimated.” ~Margaret Cho~
Zachary Asks: You’ve seen a lot of people climb the ladder of success. And probably some fall back down it. In all that time, what’s the one thing people should know… but probably don’t… that would have the greatest impact on their career?
Joel Answers: Great question Zachary. We’ve been programmed that those who work hardest get ahead. But we look around and see that isn’t necessary so. We’ve also been told to dress for success, to be a team player, to communicate well, and to network.
All these things are important. They are an essential foundation to produce success. But you can do all these things and still feel you have somehow missed the growth trajectory you expected.
In my opinion, the real key that takes your strengths of hard work, communication, and all the others and propels you to success is one overriding skill: increasing your job visibility at work.
Wait! Don’t tell me, “Oh, everyone knows who I am.” It’s really more strategic than that.
If you fail to make yourself recognized at work, you run the risk that your peers and management may not actually know your impact. They may be clueless about what work you’re doing or the impact you are having on the company.
If they don’t see the overall value you bring to the organization not only might you not be promoted, you could be one of the first let go. Gaining job visibility is vital to career success at work.
Three Steps to Greater Visibility
- How does Your Work Bring Value to the Company? For some this is an easy question. They develop a product and the sales bring in revenue. But in middle management, sometimes there are more steps between your work and the bottom line of the company.
It’s helpful to chart that out. Look at each thing you do and connect the dots to the company’s profitability.
- Can Your Coworkers Identify This Value? Coworkers can be a strong advocate in raising your visibility. They can praise your work to others or share your memos that tell what you are working on and why it’s vital.
One way to increase your own visibility is to share the successes of others. “Our team worked overtime to get this report ready to present by the meeting. They really pitched in.” By implication, others will know you also pitched in and worked hard.
- Does Your Boss Know What You’re Doing? A key to success is making sure the management knows of your work, your projects, and your successes. You can do this as you:
- Schedule review meetings with him
- Send weekly updates on your projects
- Bring him or her into the loop by consulting on thorny problems
- Speak up at meetings with thoughtful questions and good solutions
- Look for your remarkable achievements and share them- tell your story
- Share what makes you unique so you stand out at work
Be aware of the ways you use to gain visibility. Your job is to check the outcome to see if they are getting the results you want. Are people aware of you and talking about your work? Are they giving you the highly visible jobs? In your annual review, is your boss commenting on some of the outstanding projects you’ve done?
Once you master the key to increasing your visibility at work, you will see your career move forward at an accelerated pace.
Are you looking to gain visibility in your job? Is it hard for you to come out of the shadows? Evaluate your visibility so you can learn how to become known for your actual impact at work.
Have you struggled to increase your visibility at work? What ways have you found to be most successful?