Self-Promoting: Right or Wrong?

One of the greatest dilemmas in the coaching profession, especially for a young assistant, is self-promoting and getting noticed.  Being able to make a name for your self and advancing in the profession is part of every coaches driving force.

If you are not in one of the coaching “Family Trees”… Calipari, Summitt, Pitino, Auriemma, Knight, VanDerveer, Krzyzewski, Stringer, Calhoun, etc… How do you get noticed to even get a call back, let alone an interview for the next opportunity?  The same can be said of the first time head coach once they get there, how do they get noticed at a non-BCS school?  it’s almost a never-ending cycle.  Unless you set your mind right and keep it right, even after you have some success, it can be a never-ending struggle.  Give your head coach complete trust and loyalty – unconditionally.  Trust your head coach’s loyalty back to you, their respect to your development and the continuation of our profession.

Basketball advancement in this generation of coaches, especially in men’s basketball, has become all about recruiting… who is delivering the best players.  The ESPN’s hot young assistant list is all about coaches with multiple top ranked recruiting classes as the “recruiting coordinator” at a BCS school.  If you can bring a program players – you get jobs and move up.  For the sake of argument, we aren’t going to include advancement for those who operate through “working in the grey area.”  That’s going to happen, it always has and always will.  Don’t let your self worry about it or get involved.  Control what you can control.  With the recent NCAA rules changes, hiring – paying people “around” prospects – will be harder.

Understand, I’m not saying you should expect to advance, move up, if you can’t deliver players.  You have to be able to recruit.  You have to become a well-rounded coach too.  My next statement will definitely put me in the “old school” category, but the way I was raised in this profession was this: to work as hard as you can, to be loyal and supportive to your head coach, the staff, players and university and do the job you have today as though it is the last job you have.  If you did that, the next opportunity took care of itself. Those were the words Jeff Van Gundy spoke to me in 1985 when I became his assistant at McQuaid Jesuit High School.  Is that true today?  They were very true then and I believe they are still true today, but fewer coaches live by them.  It’s harder to believe it’s true when those that are working that way are by-passed for people that deliver players, advance and get jobs without having the experience.

That has all changed because of how recruiting has evolved and young coaches moving through the ranks because of their ability to deliver players.  It’s perpetuated by what I call the “Cycle of Coaching.”  Simply put, coaches are hired to be fired almost at any level.  In both the Men’s or the Women’s game the days of 20+ year careers at the same college or university are over.  Now, a 5-Year contract really means win in 3 or you’re probably done.  As long as that is the case, coaches that can deliver players will get jobs.  The “win right now” (or be fired) pressure will keep that in place no matter what the NCAA does to legislate parity in recruiting.

Below is a way to get noticed and get noticed the right way.  It may seem too “old school” for some and it may not get you the next job as fast, but when you do get there you’ll be prepared, you will have a solid group of loyal people in your inner circle, you’ll have built trust and respect amongst family, friends, parents, colleagues and prospects and you’ll enjoy our profession much more.

Adapted from the Center for Creative Leadership


The Right Way to Get Noticed

First off… Be Humble. Please.  It’s perceived that humility does not breed advancement.  I disagree.  Today’s new head coach is the consummate self-promoter.  Unless, as an assistant, you work for someone who really promotes and sells you – humility is a hard proposition to take a chance on.  It’s a catch 22:  the new head coach is promoting themselves, the young assistant is (presumably) bustin’ their tail for the program and that head coach and the head coach is still promoting themselves.  An assistant can’t promote himself or herself – it’s then perceived that they are “a big ego” coach.  What do you do?

“Many of the best, most talented individuals avoid self-promoting,” says CCL’s Cindy McLaughlin, co-author of The Truth About Sucking Up: How Authentic Self-Promotion Benefits You and Your Organization. “They are uncomfortable with it or feel like any kind of self-promotion is bragging or sucking up.”

This is very true in the coaching world.  So many of the well established, well respected veteran coaches understand this and work very hard to promote their assistants.  But what happens when that is not the case?  Trouble.  Why do some head coaches do that?  It’s a no-win situation for both sides.  Our profession is built on loyalty, on trust.  Head coaches demand it; assistants crave it for all the countless hours they pour into the head coach’s program.  Everyone needs it for potential advancement.  Without it, both sides suffer.

Generally, head coaches do not intentionally choose to NOT advocate for their assistants, to NOT help them advance – but in some cases they DO choose to not help because they do not want to lose the assistant.  Long time, veteran head coaches may be so removed from being an assistant that they have forgotten this from early in their own career.  Some never were assistants very long and this factor doesn’t play into their thought process.  Either way, you must have open, honest conversation with your head coach about this.  If you do, you will find out right away: this coach is going to help me or they aren’t.  Then decide, stay or go.  No matter what, stay loyal, don’t go negative (it is never any good for anyone and no one really wants to hear it anyway) and continue doing the job you have today as though it is the last one you will have.  Stay above anything you perceive as disloyalty from a head coach.  As an assistant, you never win the battle or the war – just move on.

Self-promotion doesn’t need to be viewed in a negative light, according to McLaughlin and her co-authors Gina Hernez-Broome and Stephanie Trovas. Interestingly, when self-promotional behaviors are done well — matching style with substance — they are usually interpreted as something else: effective communication, managing up, networking, information-sharing or relationship-building.  Do it with humility, do it openly and honestly.

To toot your horn in a way that is authentic and good for both your career and your organization, consider these points:

  • Self-promotion does not have to be painful or over-the-top.

Ignore the braggarts and suck-ups. People who promote well understand the importance of publicizing the work done by themselves and their groups, but there are many ways to do it: speaking up in meetings, being clear (and accurate) about successes, improving communication with your head coach and fellow staff members, volunteering for visible roles. Don’t be obnoxious, but don’t be overlooked, either.

  • Effective self-promotion isn’t about being someone you’re not.

In fact, your efforts will be more accurate and better received if you are genuine, substantive and (yes) imperfect. Authenticity is an important skill to foster a healthy and collaborative workplace. Without it, credibility is strained and trust is hard to come by.

  • Understand yourself.

Get clear on your strengths and why they matter. If you try to self-promote and are off the mark, then you come across as either pathetic, ego-driven or having delusions of grandeur.

  • Don’t expect others to notice your work without your efforts.

Doing a job and doing it well doesn’t ensure that others will appreciate and value it. Self-promotion is needed in some way to connect the dots between what you do and why it matters. The head coach won’t always make those connections by themselves.  Especially if they are busy self-promoting.  Help them.

  • Don’t inflate yourself at others’ expense.

What might seem like a win at the time will cause damage to your reputation and limit your ability to work well with others. Plus, it’s just not nice.  We’re a profession of respect and loyalty.  To your head coach as well as the other assistants you are on staff with.  Treat the profession with respect and the others around you the same.  It will give back to you ten-fold.

  • Promote what you deliver.

Back up your claims with real accomplishments, skills, experience or knowledge that deserve recognition and acknowledgment. If you tout yourself as detail-oriented, then be that person, plan the minutiae and uncover the mistake. Unmatched people skills?  Put them to use resolving conflict, coaching others and building a great staff.

When it isn’t working.  If you know that you are getting great results – there is proof in the pudding and it is not getting recognized and you’re concerned about your future, you have to take a new approach.

Begin by looking for opportunities to talk to your head coach about the accomplishments that have occurred that directly relate to your investment in that area.  Do it in a way that felt genuine, humble and reasonable.  Add yourself to the staff meeting agenda and made sure you speak up early in the meeting.  Start with a group accomplishment and a group challenge or critical issue. You’ll find information shared was the truth; it just hadn’t really been shared publicly before.

After a few weeks, your head coach will realize how you have played an important role in increasing the staff’s productivity. While the staff may or may not have actually improved, you will have increased your promotion of the staff and yourself so that, going forward, they were accurately assessed by the head coach.

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