Play the Long Game: Impact Over Self-Promotion

When considering business opportunities, think about the potential impact you can have for a team, for an organization. Impact matters far more than the potential accolades received via self-promotion. This is true on just about every level, personal, spiritual, and career trajectory.

In fact, for those seeking to build credibility through self-promotion, I would argue consistently garnering accolades is a by-product of impact. If you seek to deliver value, build capacity, or grow people, teams, and brands, then accolades will come. Yes, you have to highlight those impactful achievements to get the accolades, but having the substantive results to do so makes the outcome much more likely.

Now some will say, “Well, people who get awards don’t always do the best work. In fact, they are just really the best promoter. So shouldn’t I do the same?”

It’s a great question, one that is worth diving into extensively. However, I think it is most important to further discuss creating impactful work first.

Why Impact Matters Most

Employers and clients pay for impact. Their investment in work via employment or a contract job literally pays a fee for a service. That can be described as the work that you perform. 

In a tight labor market like the one we are in now, that simple definition can get distorted and lost with all the hubris about the need for fulfilling experiences, great benefits, work-life balance, etc. All of these are relevant for attracting and retaining talent, but let’s be clear, there is a difference between getting a decent job and performing well in that job. 

And doing the job well on a consistent basis is the cornerstone of a notable career. Impact matters. It makes you more valuable in a hot economy and keeps you secure in a downturn.

Credibility is founded on proof points. Even the best self-promoters cite completed initiatives in their online posts or internal communications. But it’s more than that, consider a sense of self-worth as a result of delivering well.

On a personal level, I find a project done well is the ultimate reward. I feel useful and competent. Because I like what Jim Collins calls Big Hairy Audacious Goals or BHAGs, these moments provide a demonstrable level of excellence and competence that I enjoy. You could say I like winning brass rings.

I know these prove my value. Some might find it hard to believe, I don’t always share these moments either. There are some reasons not to share all of them, professional discretion comes to mind first. It may not be in your employer or client’s best interests. But I also care less about celebrating my brass rings publicly than I used to during my heyday as a blogger.

Attention for attention’s sake is like fast food. While attention can make you feel good at the moment, done right, it is simply the by-product of doing the right thing, which is delivering impact in my work. That public acknowledgment is really tying the bow on the whole package. 

Self-Promotion versus Execution

Sometimes we forget all the work that goes into becoming a keynote speaker.

Anyone with a few years of experience has watched people gain notoriety and success because they promoted themselves well. They were assertive and muscled their way into the best projects. When it was done they declared victory and made sure everyone knew they were part of or led the project. 

Humble brags on the Internet? Yeah, they always seem to be the first to post.

Sometimes others involved feel their roles were minimized as a result. Or worse, they feel like that person doesn’t deserve the credit. It’s important to separate one’s emotions from these situations. 

First, it’s never good to compare yourself to others. Growth, excelling, superior competence are all very personal measurements, even in career trajectories. You can only be the best you. Even if you excel in areas where a peer doesn’t, they will have their own strengths and experiences which can make their work product unique. Everybody can have a valuable role at the table.

Second, perhaps that person does the work well AND they are good at playing the political recognition game. God bless them if they are. You’re probably looking at someone who has a CxO career trajectory. It pays to respect players who can execute their work in a competent fashion and also promote themselves so they get access to better opportunities. They often have good business sense and usually deserve the successes they continue to have over prolonged periods of time.

In the worst cases, we have the person who promotes well but may have performance weaknesses. Usually, this type of person fails to rise through the ranks. Yes, they do get more opportunities because of their promotion skills, but sooner rather than later their performance weighs on their trajectory. In the worst cases, they may lose positions because of their inability to deliver.

In the end, the truth usually – not always – but usually wins out.

Conclusion: Meditating on Impact

What value will you add today?

Given this discussion, looking at opportunities one has to consider impact. It’s easy to join Meta and claim that you are a great marketer, but what about a lesser-known brand or worthwhile cause that needs just your talents to breakthrough? Deciding on a scenario depends on you and your goals, whether you want the credibility of a well-known name or the work of an upward climb with challenging projects that had bigger potential rewards. 

Again, the two paths are not mutually exclusive. You can accomplish great things and then get recognized for them.

The impact decision can come into play for major initiatives or even the toils of a normal workweek. Questions can help guide impact. What’s the best way to add value? How can I best deliver impact? Which processes can I strengthen? 

Just some food for thought as you consider which career actions to take now and in the future. Thank you for taking the time to read this article.