06 Aug 2015 15:23 IST

Don’t shy away from blowing your own trumpet

We need to speak up for ourselves, in the right way, to the right audience, at the right time, believing in the value of what we have to offer.

If you get the notes right, your achievements can shine and this music will take you places

Indians are conditioned to believe that they ought to downplay themselves; we are taught from the cradle onwards that blowing our own trumpet is frowned upon and shouldn’t be done.

But this cultural trait has to be overcome in today’s world of opportunities where being outspoken is key to playing the game.

I recently received an e-mail from a young American, expressing a desire to work with my company. “When I first located your company online I immediately connected to your mission, your practices and your structure and…I knew immediately this…type of work with an Indian focused core, was something I wanted to be involved with” she wrote.

Now, this was very gratifying, but in the many earlier paragraphs, she had given such glowing accounts of herself, her background and her accomplishments, that I was a little put off. Instinctively, I felt something wasn’t quite right; but then, I reminded myself, the lady’s an American, used to describing herself in ways other nationalities might consider ‘over the top’.

It might just be a ‘culture’ thing, rather than being boastful or full of oneself.

Fine balance

Indians have a different approach. And while it’s equally valid, to survive in today’s world, we need to figure out how we can hold on to our Indian roots but still fly with the world. Telling myself this, I thought of Gandhiji, who was known for his humility, but still managed to get to world’s centre-stage, and continues to inspire till this day.

How would such leaders of yesteryear have dealt with the modern challenges of self-promotion? It goes without saying though that personality building is important. But how does one effectively put themselves out there?

I came up with six basic guidelines which I feel will give the ‘New Indian Manager’ a fair chance in the global business world; while letting her be true to herself and to Indian codes of conduct:

Know yourself

We need to have a clear understanding of our own strengths, what we can contribute to the workforce, how can we add value. Gandhiji, for instance, was clear about what he was good at — rousing people to action, leading by example; so he focussed confidently on non-violent and non-cooperation to gain freedom for India.

Speak up for yourself

We need to speak up for ourselves, in the right way, to the right audience, at the right time, believing in the value of what we have to offer. If we don’t, others won’t recognise what we can do.

Pasupathy, an office boy in our company, understands the need for and knows how to keep a checklist for print runs; but it was only when he spoke up about what he had quietly been doing that we recognised his contribution. He has since, been promoted to the designation of Print Assistant.

Don’t talk too much, instead act

Let’s give our ‘New Indian Manager’ a name in this article. Let’s call him Rajiv. After deciding to speak up, Rajiv, who knows he can be a team lead, has to practice talking about himself to get the tone just right. “Will my family be proud that I can truly say this about myself?” is a good question to ask yourself when in doubt. On the other hand, keeping in tune with professional standards, Rajiv should practice being clear and concise in his communication. He can start by writing it down in 250 words or less. (Rajiv should remember that too much talk is likely to get his claims dismissed, as I was tempted to do with the American who e-mailed me.) Apart from this, investing in a course that teaches you to speak well may be worth the expense, especially to be upwardly mobile.

Speak from your heart

If you are passionate about what you’re doing, it comes across well when you speak about it. Even if Rajiv talks about his own achievements, it won’t seem like boasting if he lets his commitment show. So don’t be afraid to put your heart into what you’re saying. Also, as team lead, Rajiv needs to acknowledge others’ contribution to triumphs. When you give praise where it’s due, it conveys the clear message that you’re not in the business of taking undue credit.

Let the facts speak for you

Rajiv has conveyed to his superiors that he can add value to the project. They are impressed by his initial presentation, and invite him to elaborate. His focus now should be on giving concrete examples of how his plan has worked in the past, or, if it’s a first-time venture, provide well-researched projected figures to show how it will work. In other words, he should let facts and figures speak for him, rather than a lot of unsupported adjectives.

Stretch yourself

And finally, it will help your case if you exceed expectations. When you’re entrusted with a task, do a little bit extra. I had an intern who was asked to call people who had registered on Global Adjustment’s list of landlords, and find out if their premises were still available. He produced a report which showed how many people had re-listed, how many had put him on to other contacts, which contact details were wrong, etc. In short, by giving us more than we bargained for, he announced his own worth in the nicest possible way. Impressed, we gave him new challenges and responsibilities instead of seeing him as ‘just an intern’.

So get that trumpet out and give it a nice shine. If you get the notes right, the music will take you places.

Good luck!