Shameless Self-Promotion

Over the years, in the military, business, and government, I’ve watched those who’ve been successful, and, especially in larger organizations, or government and academia, an inordinate number of those who’ve been successful in getting advanced have been shameless self-promoters whose acts and accomplishments are far less than what they represent and almost invariably less than those of at least a few of their colleagues.  So why are such individuals so successful?

First, they deceive themselves into believing that they’re better than they are, and having done so, they have no doubts about themselves, unlike more honest and introspective colleagues.  This puts the more honest competitors for the same position at a significant disadvantage. Moreover, often those who might well do a better job, and often have in fact done so, are reluctant to be ruthlessly self-promoting because, first, that kind of self-promotion usually results in denigrating others [subtly, of course, in the case of highly skilled self-promoters] and involves a certain degree of intellectual dishonesty.

Now… there’s nothing wrong with blowing one’s own horn, because, all too often, if you don’t, no one else will. But all too many superiors tend to assume that if someone doesn’t blow their own horn, they have no accomplishments to tout… or that if they tout those accomplishments honestly or modestly, such accomplishments are less that those touted with the equivalent of a full brass band.  And, in all too many organizations, quiet and honest self-promotion gets lost in the din.

Shameless self-promoters are also usually masters at minimizing the accomplishments of others, and the best do it with praise, showing a certain “generosity” that suggests that maybe those accomplishments weren’t that great, but that the individuals are devoted and work hard.

The shameless self-promoters tend to offer simplistic and excessively optimistic solutions, and then blame others when the results don’t materialize, again with that “generous” deprecation, such as “the team tried hard, but…” or “the finance types are good people, but they just don’t understand.”  The combination of self-centeredness and simplicity appeals to many harried superiors, because far too many of those superiors don’t want to hear of difficulties, needs for more resources, etc.

The shameless self-promoters are extraordinarily adept at “sucking up” to those above them who can help them rise in the organization and politely ignoring those who cannot… but once they’ve reached a level where those who once helped them can no longer do so, the self-promoter will quickly and quietly move away and find others even higher up to whom he or she can address praise and interest.

Now… there’s no secret to this general pattern or formula of behavior.  It’s been noted for generations.  What I find so amazing is that it continues to work, generation after generation, in culture after culture.

6 thoughts on “Shameless Self-Promotion”

  1. R. Hamilton says:

    Agreed. In fact, some rating systems just about require one to proclaim one’s own accomplishments. I very much dislike talking about myself so much, and would have to take notes over time to remember much of interest anyway; there’s almost nothing that _I’d_ regard as significant; keeping in mind the definition of what raters and reviewers would be expected to regard as significant is definitely a challenge.

    Part of what might contribute to that is when supervisors are so deluged with meetings and highly bureaucratic processes that it interferes with their ability to know, let alone control, what goes on; therefore, in the attempt to produce a system designed to minimize complaints of unfairness, the end result is one that over-rewards those whose foremost skills are at playing the system.

  2. Jim S says:

    And what does the fact that nearly the same patterns appear and work so consistently say about us?

    1. R. Hamilton says:

      That our high-minded criticisms, for all the validity they may have, have yet to demonstrate a significant enough survival advantage to have resulted in major changes in behavior.

      Either that, or there’s something running contrary to that advantage, that ensures particular sorts of avoidable mistakes are nevertheless repeated excessively in each generation.

    2. Brian says:

      For humanity, it means that the stuff we surround ourselves with is the only thing that has changed over the millennia; humanity, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have changed much at all at the same time.

  3. JakeB says:

    In _Inside the Criminal Mind_, Stanton Samenow observes how those with criminal minds are frequently able to get hired for jobs for which they are completely unqualified because of their supreme self-confidence. In interviews they give the impression of absolute competence because they themselves believe that nothing is beyond their abilities . . . of course the bloom comes quickly off the rose, but rather than admit to incompetence, they tell themselves that the job isn’t worthy of their time, isn’t interesting enough, or that they’re not being treated with the respect they deserve. This frequently serves as an excuse to rob or defraud the workplace before they quit.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *