Selflessness and generosity are praiseworthy traits, and you want to encourage them in your organization.

But in some people, these characteristics are accompanied by an inability or unwillingness to assert themselves on their own behalf.

How can HR and line managers help such people advance in their careers?

The interests of others
Management professor Adam Grant, at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, has a suggestion: Coach unassertive employees to see themselves as agents for the interests of others.

Here’s the idea: Social research shows that people who hesitate to advocate for themselves will step right up if the meeting of their needs is framed as also meeting the needs of others.

Won’t toot his horn
Example: An employee has the perfect skill set and qualities for an open team leader job. But he’s reluctant to toot his own horn and push for the promotion. A wise mentor might tell this person that the team needs him, and he’d be advancing its interests by going for the job.

Grant advises that, as a first step, you encourage employees to “name a beneficiary” – i.e., identify a person or group whose interests they share. Then they can think about ways to promote those common interests.

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