I remember the first time I was called arrogant. They didn’t come right out and call me arrogant but I could see through their language. I was ten years old sitting embarrassed in a class of nearly all boys being chastised by the teacher for ‘tooting my own horn’. The phrase was alien to me. All I had said was that I was the best as reading aloud. Nothing was worse than waiting for the kids with poor annunciation to work their way through half a page when I knew I was more qualified and more capable in leading group reading.
Though I didn’t realize it then, this was the day that I knew that making headway in the world was going to require some serious work when self-advocacy would be misconstrued as arrogance. As a team leader I’m all about celebrating our strengths and more importantly, surfacing the talents of those that may not be able to ‘toot their own horn’.
Celebrating our strengths allows my team to optimally allocate our human resources to the right set of priorities. When I first took lead on my current team we were still stymied by a hesitation to truly claim the things at which we were the best. This would never stand for me and the team I knew we could be. Before our monthly team meeting I assigned each team member a “bandmate”. This was a counterpart somewhere on the team who they would meet with over the course of a few weeks and learn their work strengths. During our monthly meeting each pair of bandmates would “toot each other’s horn” and prepare a slide highlighting their bandmate’s greatest strengths. After a few months of this each member of my team had a solid strength identity within the broader group. This has opened up the pathway for job shifts within the team that might not have come about had we not been tooting each other’s horns.
I still think about that day in fourth grade when young Carin learned the uphill battle it would take to overthrow the classroom norms that would turn into workplace norms. Changing long rooted mores takes courage and the willingness to drive through apprehension. It’s tough to imagine how much of this will go unchanged in our lifetime, but if we start tooting each other’s horns we can raise a mighty sound that will echo across the globe.