Situation 46: Female competition; Personal branding

Femsy noticed that all senior staff had their diplomas, awards, certificates etc. in a visible place in their offices. Now she is not longer sharing the office with Mansy, she puts hers up as well only to be told by a female colleague: “I guess some of us prefer not to show off.”

(Click on the pictures to see them in full size)

A great leader:

  • Is her own person and is guided by her values and principles;
  • Is attuned to the organizational culture and understands the inexplicit rules and norms of behavior;
  • Pays attention to her personal brand and reputation.

How to best handle the situation:

If you want to be treated seriously as a senior professional you need to be seen as operating at that level. This includes: how you dress, for example, if senior leaders wear suits, you should too; how you engage with people, it may not be appropriate to be too familiar with more junior staff since you may be seen as not suitable for handling sensitive and confidential information, or able to discipline people with whom you are friends and other symbols that signify you are a senior person.

Although there is a strong trend to an open-office culture where leaders sit with their teams, you may find yourself in your own office. Your office décor says a lot about you, whether you choose to keep it purely functional or full of personal items; people visiting you will make inferences from what they see. Displaying your awards, diplomas etc. can be a subtle way to convey your skills and expertise to others without ‘shoving it in their face’. If you are proud of your achievements, why not publicise them in this way, particularly if it is common practice in your organisation.

There is no need to feel defensive is a colleague makes a deprecating remark about this. You can either choose to ignore the comment and not respond at all, or state that you have worked hard and are proud of your achievements.

Learning suggestions:

  • Try to gather information about your reputation and how you are seen within your organization. How does this fit with the personal brand you want to have and cultivate? Where there are differences, think about what changes you can make so that your standing is more in line with what you want it to be.
  • When you are promoted to a higher level it can be hard to leave behind your former peers, particularly if you are now supervising them. It is important to have a conversation with them early on, so that you can explain that you need to transition to a different working relationship, which will be hard for both sides. If you are friends as well as colleagues, you will need to set new boundaries around your relationship so that you can both be professional at work and keep your friendship intact.
  • Keep in mind what you see as your purpose and role within the organization and the values that you hold. Use these to steer a course through the sometimes, difficult moments and interactions with your colleagues who may be envious of your success or mourn the loss of you as a peer.


  • Be a role model for other women and demonstrate graciousness by acknowledging and celebrating the achievements of others.

 Femcommunity tips:

We welcome your thoughts, experiences and comments on how you would deal with such a situation.

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