Career satisfaction,  Leadership,  Personal Brand

Managing up/Self-promotion : What To Do About It

In my recent survey, an amazing 79% of people said that Managing-up/Self-promotion is the most challenging aspect of their work. I didn’t expect it at all! I then started thinking about it more and realized it is the tip of the iceberg. Based on my experience, the real issue underneath is our reactive mode.  A more effective approach is to be purposeful in our engagement and align it with our bigger vision and core values. Deviations are fine as long as they are exceptions rather than the rule- as it doesn’t sustain for very long.

Interpretation of the Data

  • A good majority of people think Managing-up/Self Promotion is their biggest challenge.
  • As a manager or a leader, this is not a very happy place to be (makes us look like a villain :))
  • As an employee, we want to know how to recognize our contribution without having to be an annoying marketer.

Symptom and Root Cause – Based on my experience, this problem sometimes shows up like this [from an employee perspective]: “I am working hard, long hours; still my manager is asking me to do more, have more impact, show leadership…why can’t he see my contribution already.” My observation is –

Many employees are operating in a reactive environment. They are mostly reacting to events/ problems that are occurring around them. Naturally, this takes up time and energy from them – which may be perceived as “work” – does not necessarily make the most impactful one.

How to address this Problem?

As a Manager/Leader

Create an environment to own what impact means to them and the workgroup/company.  Job promotion and bonuses are not the biggest motivational force once people have a decent income. Intrinsic motivation is better, and it comes when people.

  1. Are engaged in activities that are aligned to their core values (note: Very few are aware of their values)
  2. Own their plan to succeed.
  3. See the bottom-line impact of their contribution

#2 above is somewhat done at companies like Microsoft (commitments setting). What missing is mostly #1 and some of #3. Without these, #2 has almost zero value. 

A common issue: A person who loves people interaction is put in a role that needs a whole lot of alone time in front of a computer. Even the employee works hard, what quality of result he/she will produce? What will happen to his/her motivation?

As an Employee

A common misconception happens around the definition of work. You need to know the purpose of your time in your role – be conscious about what contributes to the bottom line, what only keeps you busy.

You might often be trying to get along just because you want the next promotion; you want to be recognized. There is nothing wrong in wanting those; however, to make it sustainable and meaningful, you need to

  1. Have a vision for yourself. Ask yourself: Why do I love being a Director or a Principal Engineer (or some other position you are shooting for)?
  2. Know what core values make you unique (example values: people, contribution, collaboration, nurturing, leadership, innovation, community, etc.)

Now for every project or deliverables,

  1.  Define that vision of success in terms of the qualities you care about. If it is leadership, how do you want to show up as a leader? If it is innovation, what would that look like?
  2. Take a baby step each day/each week to be mindful of your core values. Learn from the experience, note that results.
  3. For each of these two (vision and baby step) steps, partner with your management to ensure what you see is aligned with what they see.  Ask for feedback, suggestions to fine-tune your plans. This is where you solve the issue of managing up/self-promotion; you are leveraging these people as your resources to help you move towards your desired vision.

The point is 1. Focus on what you really want to create in the end 2. Then design the how part based on your own style. Knowing your own style is the key.  

A Common pitfall:  We start with others’ expectations first (manager’s feedback), which hardly works for the long term.

None of this work? – Time to find a new job/new environment that aligns with your values more and serves you better for your long-term career vision.


Survey: I ran a survey recently among multiple Linked-In Groups related to technology.  The question was: What is the most challenging aspect of your work? The results came: Fast pace – 7%   Manage-up/Self Promotion-79% Don’t enjoy technology-2%  All of the above-3% Other-8%

Related reading: Find your core valuesWhy alignment is important, 

Intrinsic motivation

The article was originally published in March 2013