Issue # 5
ARTICLE SUMMARY: Many women lawyers avoid self-promotion. They fear that it may alienate colleagues and limit success. However, visibility and assertiveness are essential for professional accomplishment. You need to believe in the excellence of your work and ensure that it is noticed. If you re-frame "self-promotion" as an expression of pride in, and enthusiasm about, your work, you will be able to market yourself more comfortably.
Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D., Editor
Ellen is the founder of LawyersLifeCoach.com™ Personal and Career Coaching for Lawyers Determined to Achieve Professional Success AND a Fulfilling Life.
Most attorneys - especially women -- live impossibly busy lives. Finding a balance between work and life without sacrificing professional success, deciding on the best practice area or work setting, and making career transitions can be a daunting task, even for the most gifted and accomplished lawyer.
Just as every person deserves the best possible legal counsel, every attorney deserves professional, dedicated support in accomplishing her most important goals. You know how hard you've worked to get where you are -- you serve others, both personally and professionally. You've earned the right to both career success and a fulfilling life.
This newsletter is intended to help you create a satisfying life -- within, or outside of -- legal practice.
"Tooting Your Own Horn" - Practical Strategies for Developing Self-Promotion Skill and Comfort
"About a decade ago, the 'impostor phenomenon' was the subject of many self-help articles. This was the concept that women shun success because they believe they are fakers and fear being found out. I have news. Everyone is an impostor, because none of us can be certain of success until we have succeeded, and even then we always owe much to those who have helped us. Men know they are impostors, too - they just aren't particularly perturbed by it, and they certainly don't feel the need to yodel it from the mountaintops like women sometimes do. Men have always found and solved problems by working hard, getting help, and using their relationships to forge alliances and make progress. They don't have brilliance flowing to them from the ether, either."
Linda Austin, M.D. from "What's Holding You Back? - 8 Critical Choices for Women's Success." Basic Books, 2000. Pp. 106-107.
One might think that women whose most finely developed skill is advocacy would be wonderful advocates for themselves. But, in reality, all of us feel entitled to use our skills in some situations and not in others.
Advocating for a client is acceptable and desirable; doing it well gains approval from colleagues and superiors (and occasionally gratitude from clients). But when it comes to self-advocacy, women lawyers are in a double bind. In our culture, women are socialized to believe that self-promotion is regarded as unbecoming and aggressive and that doing so will have negative consequences for their careers. Raised to value modesty and to eschew boasting, many women feel uncomfortable highlighting their expertise and accomplishments.
On the other hand, the downside of failing to advocate for yourself can be far-reaching. In the short run, too much modesty feeds into the gender stereotype of women not being "tough enough." If your achievements go unrecognized, you'll end up feeling isolated, which can sap your confidence and make you feel increasingly dissatisfied with your career.
But even more importantly, self-promotion is an essential component of an effective career-development strategy. Calling attention to your expertise, claiming credit for your victories, expressing your informed opinion and speaking up are all fundamentally forms of marketing.
Marketing activities do not only refer to out-of-firm efforts to bring in new business. You also need to market yourself within your firm or organization. Being promoted to partner or supervisor or executive committee, earning pay raises and bonuses, and receiving business development opportunities all depend upon the image you project. And this image is largely created by the information people have about your talents and successes. Telling people within your organization about your "wins" is the most important way to create the perception that you are powerful and effective. Most of the time, your colleagues and superiors won't see you in action; and even when they do they see only a small percentage of your total "acts." The missing data has to come from the actor herself.
As a lawyer and a professional, you may regard marketing as alien - i.e., as something that only business people do. Furthermore, many women tend to keep professional and personal relationships separate. You may consider the idea of introducing business into a social relationship as in poor taste, or even as exploitive.
But as a coach and consultant to women attorneys, I disagree. To believe that "tooting your own horn" is crass or inappropriate is gender discrimination. When a woman lawyer achieves a success, she is as entitled to as much attention and praise as any man. When a woman attorney seeks the power to control her career - her time, her schedule, her options - by marketing her expertise and developing a significant portfolio, this behavior is not "unseemly."
If you view your work as meaningful and important then you are providing a service that others need. Why not make them aware that you can provide it? You're not "showing off"; you have skills and knowledge that other people need and will be grateful to discover. There's nothing crass about calling attention to your expertise when it is an expression of genuine enthusiasm about what you do and it arises from a sense of conviction about your capabilities and the value of your work. Pride is natural - watch children playing together in a playground if you don't believe me.
Many women lawyers implicitly believe that the recipe for success within their firms calls for blending in and remaining inconspicuous. Perceiving their minority status, they realize that they have few women role models to turn to for support. They feel as if they're in a precarious position - and maybe they are.
But self-advocacy is a way to take an active role in directing your own career. Doing what you can in order to further your success is empowering. And if the firm you're in can't handle it, another one will. If you need confirmation of your marketability elsewhere, a legal recruiter can easily provide this.
Here is a case in point:
I recently coached a brilliant woman associate in a large and prestigious firm. She believed she'd never be successful there because she lacked the right credentials. Though she'd done excellent work and developed considerable expertise in her practice area, she simply moved from one project to the next, assuming that only the "superstars" would receive recognition. Not surprisingly, her evaluation made little mention of all her achievements, and she despaired of being successful in her firm. She decided to consult a recruiter, simply to assess her marketability. To her surprise she discovered she was extremely marketable. This experience nurtured the seed I'd planted earlier about her need to promote herself in appropriate ways, and her entitlement to do so.
Shortly afterward, her firm won a significant victory in a case in which she'd played a large role. Credit was only given to the partners involved. Uncharacteristically, she spoke to the managing partner, expressing her concern that many people who had helped on the case - not only herself but junior associates and support staff - had gone unacknowledged. Ultimately, she was publicly congratulated for a job well done. Of course, in private, the managing partner had complained that she'd acted like a "prima donna." But that seemed a small price to pay now that the rest of the firm knew about her excellent work. Best of all, she felt empowered, effective, optimistic and much more in control of her career.
Here are 13 practical steps for developing your skills at self-promotion:
1. KEEP A LOG OF YOUR SUCCESSES
Unless you recognize them, no one else will. No "win" is too small to record.
2. LIST YOUR STRENGTHS
Make a list of your strengths, of what makes you unique and why someone should want your legal services.
3. RE-DEFINE SELF-PROMOTION
Re-define self-promotion, self-advocacy and self-marketing as taking control of your career, developing a clear sense of your strengths and making others aware of your genuine commitment to your work.
4. SHARE YOUR STRENGTHS AND CONVICTIONS
If you think of self-promotion as simply sharing your strengths and convictions then every interpersonal interaction is an opportunity for self-advocacy. Don't people at parties ask you what you do? Are you offended if they tell you about their work with enthusiasm?
5. REJECT GENDER STEREOTYPES
Refuse to accept gender stereotypes that suggest that "tooting your own horn" is acceptable behavior for men but not women.
6. TAKE CALCULATED RISKS
Recognize that self-advocacy is risk-taking behavior and that everyone feels anxious when they take risks. Also remind yourself that not promoting yourself is risky.
7. CULTIVATE ALLIANCES
Ask yourself with whom is it important for you to have a relationship in your firm, particularly in your practice area. Cultivate contacts and alliances within your organization. Develop a good relationship with a powerful advocate.
Show these people you're thinking about things when they can't see you. E-mail them relevant press clippings or other important information you come across.
8. STRATEGICALLY SELECT ORGANIZATIONS AND COMMITTEES FOR PARTICIPATION
Use your limited time to serve your goals. Participate in those professional organizations that will bring you in contact with people who can bring you business. Be visible in these organizations by giving talks or being active on committees.
Within your own firm or organization, choose an administrative role for which you can become recognized. Increase your visibility by volunteering for leadership roles and being outspoken on matters that spotlight your expertise.
9. GET YOUR SUCCESSES IN PRINT
Most firms and business organizations have internal publications. If you receive an award, have worked on a big case or successfully negotiated a transaction, publicize it in the newsletter.
10. PRACTICE LEADERSHIP SKILLS
Consider taking on leadership roles within your local women's bar association. This is a wonderful opportunity to develop leadership skills, increase your confidence, and find models and support.
11. SPEAK UP ABOUT YOURSELF EFFECTIVELY
When you talk to colleagues and superiors, mention what you're doing. Tell others how you're working toward your current goals. Repeat compliments you receive.
State your activities, accomplishments and knowledge definitively. Don't undermine your assertions with comments that minimize your contributions. Practice saying "I am; I did; I know;" etc. with no "but" following the declaration. Don't qualify your statements with "I think..." Simply state what you have done, can do, and know.
12. OBSERVE THE EXPERTS
Notice individuals in your organization who are particularly effective at self-promotion. Observe what they do and say, and how they say it. Tailor their examples to your own style and make a commitment to practice. Begin with people with whom you're relatively more comfortable and work your way up to more challenging situations.
13. NOTICE OPPORTUNITIES
Stay open to opportunities. Enjoy meeting people. If you have solutions to their problems, tell them. They'll be grateful. They may also provide you with information, referrals and leads. Stop black-and-white thinking about relationships. Your work is an expression of your identity.
ARE YOU A LAWYER WITH CAREER SUCCESS AND LIFE BALANCE?
Lawyers Life Coach is dedicated to sharing practical strategies that lawyers are already using -- from something as small as hiring a virtual assistant to something as large as leaving the profession.
Of course, I will only share your strategies and any identifying information with your permission.
BEYOND THE BILLABLE HOUR™ is published monthly by Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D., founder of LawyersLifeCoach.com. She brings 20 years of experience assisting women attorneys to her work in Lawyers Life Coach™.
LawyersLifeCoach.com is a professional and personal coaching firm specializing in working virtually (by phone with email and fax backup) with women attorneys interested in developing strategies to find greater satisfaction in their careers within the law or in exploring career alternatives for lawyers.
Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D. established Lawyerslifecoach.com to coach busy lawyers who might benefit from the insights gained from 20 years as a psychologist combined with her experience and familiarity with the legal profession.
Ellen holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Rochester and is a managing member of Metropolitan Behavioral Health Care, LLC., a multispecialty, multidisciplinary psychotherapy practice in Washington, D.C. and suburban Maryland.
She is a member of the International Coach Federation and a graduate of the MentorCoach Program™.
NOTE: BEYOND THE BILLABLE HOUR TM is intended for informational and educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for a personal consultation with a mental health professional and should not be construed as a form of, or substitute for, counseling, psychotherapy, or other psychological service.
Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D.
© 2000 — 2008 Ellen Ostrow. All rights reserved.
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© 1998-2008 Lawyers Life Coach, LLC. All Rights Reserved.