If No One Knows What You’ve Accomplished, How Can They Know What You are Capable of Doing?

Kathy Hopinkah Hannan Leadership

Stop light treeA.K.A.: How to Toot Your Own Horn Without Getting a Ticket

Imagine you are driving down a road on your way to an important appointment and you get stuck at a very long red traffic light. Let’s further imagine that when the light turns green (a short green), the person in the car in front of you is not paying attention, maybe they are reading a map, but they do not move.

What do you do?  Well, you can sit there and hope that the person looks up before the light changes again or you can simply toot your horn.  I think most of us would opt for the second choice.  A simple toot is likely all that is needed to get the driver in the car in front of you to look up and proceed through the intersection thereby allowing you to move forward. (There actually is a third option: a road rage approach, but that may just get you a ticket or worse.)

How many times in your career has someone else been tapped for a role that you felt you deserved and really wanted, or worse, you found out you were not even considered the role?  Your great work and success should speak for itself, so why does your boss not seem to see it?  It simply could be that he or she is sitting at a traffic light reading a map.

One of the most valuable lessons learned, particularly as a female executive climbing the corporate ladder, is not to assume that my CEO or executive team knew exactly what I had accomplished or more importantly what I aspired to do. 

Doing a job well in itself is just not enough. It is important to have the confidence to speak up, take the credit for what you have accomplished and share your goals. You may also need to help connect the dots for your CEO or other executive to show how your accomplishments prove you are ready for the next challenge and to join the leadership team.

Here are a few quick tips to help you move through that traffic light at the intersection of your career:

  • Invest the time to reflect upon organizational challenges and jot down a few of the relative obstacles you faced and how you personally worked through them. Keep a record of these observations;
  • Think about those elements that may not be visible to your CEO or executive team. What are those issues that others may not want to recognize. Do your homework;
  • Ask to meet with your CEO or other members of the executive team to share your story of challenges and how you addressed them. Position your observations as new perspectives from the filed. This shows initiative and personal ownership;
  • Use this meeting to also share your long-term goals and how you could create additional value for the organization. Ask for reactions and feedback; this demonstrates your confidence in seeking input;
  • Be sure to recognize other team members; this is key to ensuring you are not laying on the horn;
  • Position your discussion on having the executive team’s best interests in mind, and that of the organization at the forefront. Show how your new responsibilities will benefit all;
  • Be authentic, be yourself.

You are now tooting your horn. Sounds easy, right?  Well it is.  But let’s assume you grew up being told it was not polite to speak about yourself or you just aren’t comfortable doing so. Sound familiar?

This is where mentors and or trusted colleagues can help. They can help you rehearse to get comfortable or they can toot your horn for you. But remember, this only works for a short time.  Ultimately you will see that you need to grab that steering wheel and begin to toot. It’s your career and you are in the driver seat.

So start tooting!


Kathy Hopinkah Hannan is KPMG’s national managing partner for corporate responsibility, diversity and inclusion. She is also a doctoral student in values-driven leadership at Benedictine University. Read more from Kathy in her post, Winning Hearts & Minds: The Battle for Diversity & Inclusion Needs Authentic Leadership (Here’s Where to Start).


Photo credit: GTPS via Compfight cc


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