Go Ahead, Speak Up for Yourself

Many leaders avoid tooting their own horn for fear of looking arrogant. But two longtime execs say putting yourself in for awards and praise needn’t be egotistical—and can benefit an entire association.

It’s always a good thing to have advocates for you at the office. Often those people will do it for you without asking. But there’s no shame advocating on your own behalf, either.

That can be a touchy business, of course—nobody wants to be seen as arrogant or egotistical about their accomplishments. That feeling can be especially acute if you’re thinking of putting your name in for an award. But it’s possible to toot your own horn without appearing pushy about it, say two accomplished and award-winning association leaders.

In 2017, Elena Gerstmann, FASAE, CAE, a longtime association executive and principal at Avenue M Group, received ASAE’s Professional Performance Award, which honors association leaders who aren’t CEOs. Last year, Arlene Pietranton, CEO of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, received ASAE’s Key Award, which honors chief executives.

It’s more about owning your own brand and owning how you want people to see you.

Both agree that it’s fine to speak up for yourself and ask for help with an award nomination. The first step for that is getting past the notion that speaking up is inherently selfish. “When we say ‘tooting your own horn,’ it sounds kind of wrong, right?” says Gerstmann. “It’s not humble. But in my mind it’s more about owning your own brand and owning how you want people to see you.”

So how do you take that first anxious step and ask for a nomination? “For me it’s about clear and concise language,” Gerstmann says. “You don’t beat around the bush. You handle it like so much of what we do. If I’m looking for a recommendation, don’t spend five minutes leading up to that. Just say, ‘I need a recommendation and would you feel comfortable supplying that recommendation?’ Or, ‘I’ve read about this and I would like to be nominated, would you feel comfortable nominating me?’”

Pietranton adds that leaders feeling a little skittish about going through the process can recognize that awards aren’t just a victory lap—they can be a way to bolster your relationships with staff, volunteers, and stakeholders.

“What I’ve found is that it’s been an opportunity to let my colleagues, and especially ASHA’s volunteer leaders, know that my peers in the association community view me as a strong contributor to that community,” she says.

And you don’t have to look at an award as a way of puffing up your accomplishments. Indeed, Pietranton argues that an award can help you avoid that. “It almost feels more modest to establish your standing in the community through the acknowledgement of others,” she says. “Instead of my trying to write a statement saying, ‘I’ve been active in the community and I make contributions of substance,’ it’s almost a more objective way to establish your credibility by indicating the recognition that another party has bestowed on you.”

Still worried about all that, even after you’ve advocated for yourself? Pay it forward, Pietranton suggests: Be the kind of person who nominates those around you for the kind of acclaim they might not otherwise consider themselves deserving of.

“There are a lot of worthy people among us, and each of us has that power of nomination, of recognizing folks around us who contribute in ways that we appreciate and respect,” she says.

Which is just good leadership, Gerstmann adds: “That’s what makes award winners, people who treat other people with respect and human kindness.”

(JoKMedia/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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