UPDATE – September 23, 2014–I’ve just finished reading “Invisibles”. It was a breath of fresh air amidst what sometimes seems like a lot of hot air filled with non-stop social media, amplified tweeting and frenzied calls for attention. This book is well-researched (some might say meticulously so, in keeping with the conclusions Zweig has drawn about Invisibles). If you have ever wondered how to balance career fulfillment with the pressure to self-promote, you should read this book.
In his new book, Invisibles: The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion, writer David Zweig explains why some people shun the spotlight while others aggressively compete for centre stage.
Quoted in an interview with Maclean’s Ken MacQueen, Zweig says that “Invisibles” are driven by “a strong sense of responsibility, a meticulous attention to detail and an ambivalence about recognition.” He adds that “they find their reward through work itself” and that they “all tend to be master collaborators”.
I know many lawyers and legal professionals who feel pushed to self-promote; they’re advised to publish summaries of successful court battles, add accolades to their web profiles and apply for awards that – while nice – don’t really mean much to them or their clients. They usually play along in the interest of being team-players, but it’s easy to detect their discomfort.
Zweig’s book might de-mystify ambivalence regarding self-promotion. In an article published last weekend on Salon.com, he notes “most of us need to promote ourselves and our work at different times. Invisibles aren’t against being acknowledged for their accomplishments, nor is their humility and desire to remain under the radar to be taken for meekness.”.
If you’re an Invisible, you might have to negotiate with others to be recognized for your work and to be respected. How? Without having read Zweig’s book, I’d offer the following ideas:
- Let the quality of your work speak for itself. Results are hard to argue with.
- Understand how your performance will be assessed by those who have influence over your career – your clients, the people in charge of your salary, and other stakeholders all have metrics for perceived success.
- Continue to be a team player. Invisibles are probably the first people others think of when they need an authoritative resource to solve a problem or answer a question. Invisibles are reliable and trustworthy. And they’re really good at giving credit where it’s due, which earns loyalty.
- Be naïve. Law firms and departments can be rife with politics. Your organization still needs to promote its overall brand, even if you find self-promotion difficult.
- Give your power away. I suspect that work done by Invisibles is often attributed to those who love to take as much credit as possible. Instead of smoldering in resentment, it might be more useful to negotiate recognition.
- Stereotype yourself and others. The self-aggrandizing behaviour of narcissists can mask deep feelings of vulnerability. Invisibles might tend towards passive aggressiveness if they feel compelled to self-promote. People are not always what they seem to be.
I’ve read a lot of books similar to Zweig’s – Quiet , Power and Influence for Lawyers , Quiet Influence and Adam Grant’s Give and Take (I’m an introvert, in case you can’t tell). All point to a similar conclusion: success comes to the “invisible”, but it isn’t achieved through relentless self-promotion, a sense of entitlement or a need for attention. It comes from the deep satisfaction you can only get from seeing the results of hard work and from helping others succeed. And in the end, it is something only you can define for yourself.