I recently had a virtual meeting with a business associate that reminded me of something out of a comedy. As soon as she got on the call, she let my colleagues and I know she was about to embark on training with a famous model. This business associate had become a model in her middle age, and repeatedly let us know about the many pageants she entered and won, how often she’s on a catwalk, and that she is an “influencer.” She also told us her exact age, and that she hasn’t had any artificial enhancements made to her face. She said she now was using her platform as a model to advance her more serious work pursuits as a healthcare provider.
The serious pursuit we were on the call about was a few gadgets she had invented. She wanted to brief us on these innovations—though she had not yet received funding, and it was not clear yet that she would. She said half-jokingly that when these inventions take off, she may invite us onto her private plane for interviews. I rolled my eyes before I remembered that my computer camera was on. Fortunately, she was so taken with herself that I don’t think she noticed.
After she got off the call, my colleagues and I chatted about her. They were impressed with her, but one of my colleagues noted that when she visited this business associate’s office, there were hardly any patients there at all. The business associate had bragged about the need for a side door for all the celebrities who come to see her as a doctor. Yet, based on my colleague’s description of her empty office, that hardly seemed necessary.
Does this person remind you of anyone you know in your current office or past workplaces?
The Imposter Syndrome
Bragging seems born of insecurity, so when I run into a person who constantly puffs themselves up, I try to feel compassion for them. Bragging is sometimes taught as the antidote for “impostor syndrome,” in which a person feels like they don’t belong in a place where they have earned a spot, or don’t deserve to be in a job they are well qualified for. There are even blogs, like this one, on “How to overcome impostor syndrome and discover the brag-worthy you.”
I reflected on what would have been acceptable to me coming from the braggart business associate. I think leading with the reason for the call would have been refreshing: “Thank you for joining me this afternoon. I was excited when I heard you might be interested in hearing about these new products I’m developing. We’re still in early days, but I have a good feeling about this, and have had some interest already from potential investors, though funding hasn’t been secured yet.”
It isn’t bragging if you’re sharing information that is relevant and useful to the people you are speaking with. Self-expression becomes bragging when there is no reason other than self-promotion to share information. Do I care that this woman is a model at the far end of middle age, or that she has an impressive number of followers on Instagram?
The Corporate Culture Angle
Avoiding both impostor syndrome and bragging is related to corporate culture. Is your culture one in which employees have been led to be insecure and in constant fear of losing their position? If so, that can create a culture of braggarts where everyone needs to make sure their qualifications and achievements—even those unrelated to the business at hand—are front and center at all times. On the other hand, a culture in which everyone knows exactly where they stand at all times creates employees who are secure enough to speak confidently without turning every conversation into an infomercial for themselves.
Developing Secure Employees
The challenge is finding ways to create secure employees. Training managers to note wins as much as losses is a start. There’s nothing like a hyper-critical culture to lead an otherwise secure person to start questioning themselves. It also helps when managers are trained to turn losses into learning opportunities. The loss is noted and then, without hostility or disparagement, the manager asks the employee(s) how the loss could have been handled differently so it might have been a win. When a manager has celebrated your past wins, and is speaking to you without accusation, it becomes easier to stay calm and allow yourself to think through the error and learn how to keep it from happening again. There’s no need to puff yourself up when the person, or people, measuring your performance are eager to work with you to improve performance, and are as excited to note your wins as your occasional failures.
How do you create a culture of secure employees, who don’t suffer from impostor syndrome and also are not braggarts?