Owning your narrative at work is one of the most underrated ideas out there. We tend to think that if we work hard enough we will eventually “get what we deserve and what we have worked so hard for” even if we sit quietly and just keep working, but life is simply not as straightforward as this. The idea is that to complement your skills and hard work you also need that element of “personal brand” that will do the talk for you to make sure you are getting noticed. On a side note, I personally don’t like the “personal brand” term as it implies some sort of an artificial way of building your public or professional image, where you end up curating your real life self and your digital persona to match an ideal, fabricated image, until you are overdoing it. Nonetheless, the idea behind is still a very relevant and valid one – you need to make sure you are building your image and reputation so that people can refer to it in the long run.
So, this whole idea has been on my mind quite a lot and I have discussed it numerous times with those close to me, especially during the time when I was promoted as well as when other people were promoted. Because the approach we tend to take, especially at the beginning of our careers is to assume that just by working hard we will get that promotion or recognition and everything will fall in place eventually and naturally. As soon as you start navigating the real world and start advancing in your career, you realise it’s not that simple. The concept of meritocracy – you get what you work for – might sound like sweet music to your ears but there are so many other things that come to play, that in the end just hard work by itself will not be enough to get you where you want to be. You need to be smart about it and add that interpersonal factor in – tapping into the right connections and the right positioning – to make sure you are playing your cards right.
Alongside the hard work you need to be your own advocate – and by no means I am saying that you should be the loudest, self absorbed person in the room, promoting yourself everywhere or in every instance – but you should take advantage of your opportunities and play your strengths to position yourself in an adequate manner in front of the right people. Don’t just wait for someone else to notice how hard you work, nobody will do that for you, so you better start taking care of that yourself. You don’t have to promote yourself at every meeting, but you should make sure that the right people know that you exist and that you are doing a great job. Making sure you produce results with your hard work and achieve your goals is one way of doing it. There are certainly other ways that can also help: you can be the person asking the right questions at meetings to make sure your opinion is heard or stated, you can be the on saying the right things in one on one conversations with colleagues and managers and showcasing all that hard work, or you can even be that helpful colleague sharing tips with everyone, and so on.
While hard work is necessary and you cannot expect to get more without it, owning your narrative can definitely put you in the right place at the right time, and get you what you deserve.
For further reads, this HBR article touches a bit on it, though I need to say I don’t fully agree with the tone of the article in general or the way it is positioned. The Every Girls also talks about it and lays out the three types of executive presence that help you advance in your career. When it comes to building your professional image and
“personal brand” Sheryl Sandberg also says “Don’t package yourself.” – in the end you just need to speak honestly, factually and from your own experience.