Do you actively seek personal recognition through self-promotion?
Yes: 28 percent
No: 72 percent
The question of self-promotion is a tricky one—and one about which there is less of a consensus than in other areas I investigated. There are a number of highly successful CEOs and top professionals who are shameless self-promoters. In business, Donald Trump and Hugh Hefner come to mind. In the legal arena, F. Lee Bailey and Johnny Cochran seem to fit the same bill. Don King, the boxing promoter, has publicly acknowledged and demonstrated (about a million times) that self-promotion is a very important part of his professional identity.
But not all self-promoters are flamboyant showmen like Donald Trump and Don King. Even the sincere, mild-mannered top medical researcher, Dr. Joshua Korzenik, acknowledged that in the field of medical research, self-promotion is critical because one key to success is getting grant money. And the art of "grantsmanship," as Dr. Korzenik puts it, necessarily involves a degree of self-promotion—as distasteful as it is to him. In fact, a sizeable percentage—over a quarter—of the people I interviewed for this book confided to me—some off the record—that self-promotion is an important part of professional success.
On the other hand, many top executives shun the spotlight and dislike those who seek it. "Those who promote themselves have got a strike against them even if they are good at what they do," says Sam Fox, the low-key owner of the Harbour Group, whom I discussed above. "Because the question becomes: Who is this guy, who is he really looking out for? Is he a fighter pilot looking out for himself, or is he a team player with the company's interests at heart?" Fox asks. Richard Bell, the longtime CEO of the highly successful international engineering firm HDR, Inc., puts it even more bluntly: "Self-promotion is a dead end. It destroys you. It destroys the opportunity that could be in front of you." Others who seem to fall into the camp of top executives who shun self-promotion include the late Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart, and Ken Chenault, the CEO of American Express.
So what is the answer? There is a way to reconcile the apparent conflict between those who favor self-promotion and those who reject it. Let's analyze the situation in greater detail.