By Barry Maher
Back when I was a manager in the Yellow Pages business, one of my boss’ bosses always used to say of me, “He’s the guy who wrote the book on the subject” because I had in fact written a book on the Yellow Pages. The additional prestige that gave me in that industry continues to this day. And I do mean this day. Just this morning, on the day I’m writing this, I happened to encounter a high-level Yellow Pages executive. His name wasn’t familiar to me, but he remembered that we’d met briefly ten years before, and that he’d had his picture taken with me. He said he wished he’d gotten me to autograph his copy of my book. Understand, this is not Gone with the Wind. This is Getting the Most from Your Yellow Pages Advertising. A book that even my current literary agent probably doesn’t know I wrote. Very little movie potential here and not a whole lot of star quality.
My boss’s boss had probably never read the book. In fact I was told that he was intimidated by the fact that I’d written it. But it gave me much more authority than I ever would have had otherwise. And any vision, opinion or plan I offered was taken far more seriously.
You need people to be aware of your expertise but that doesn’t mean flaunting it. Your peers and superiors will resent that, and look for ways to shoot you down. The best case scenario is to become such an authority that others spread the word on you. Then you yourself can be as modest as possible. Failing that, find ways to make sure it’s introduced that don’t appear to be bragging. Humor can help.
When I was still in the Yellow Pages industry and I needed to throw my expert status around with someone who didn’t know me, I’d say something like, “For what it’s worth, this is who I am.” Then I’d pull out a copy of my book and offer a very brief synopsis of my background. I’d give them a quick glance at the cover then flip to the back and the picture, proving that it was me.
“What’s bizarre is that the publisher actually airbrushed more hair onto my picture,” I’d say, handing them the book. “I guess they figured I was too bald to sell books.”
Not high humor. But the person would always smile or laugh. The onus was off; I wasn’t an obnoxious braggart, claiming to know more than they did. I was self deprecating–but I got my point across. And as they looked over the book, they could see that I hadn’t even bothered to point out the quote from TIME on the front cover calling me, “easily the most respected authority on the subject” or the fact that I’d been the number one salesperson in the world for one of the world’s largest directory publishers.
I was a braggart. I made sure my credentials were as widely known inside and outside the industry as possible. Obviously I’m still mentioning them, even though by now I would hope they’ve been far surpassed by the credentials I’ve gained as a speaker and a writer and a motivator, and a management and sales consultant. (See, I worked those in as well, and if you want to know just how awesome those credentials are I’ll be happy to arrange for somebody to let you know.) But I was also widely regarded as being exceptionally modest.
“With his track record and his credentials it’s amazing how modest he is,” they used to say, right before reiterating for the umpteenth time—and often exaggerating—one or more of my accomplishments. Never realizing that it was that track record and those credentials that allowed me to be that modest. Never considering that if I really were modest, the entire industry wouldn’t be so familiar with my achievements.
In my last assessment, my boss listed “self promotion” as the one area in which I needed development. She said this while sitting beside a signed copy of my book, displayed where no visitor to her office could possibly miss it.