Do You Let Others Toot Your Horn For You?

The truly great leader doesn't need to announce his own success or sing her own greatness. She has mastered the process of patiently allowing the excellent people around her do the talking for her.

My first professional gig as a guitar player was with a Christian hip-hop artist named DJ Maj. I was so excited to be playing music for actual money, to be able to proudly claim the coveted tag, “professional musician.” It validated me. It felt good. It felt like moving to Nashville with only one local acquaintance (and not a damn clue) maybe wasn’t so hair-brained.

I remember one evening, sitting on the front bench of our 16-passenger van, watching the white lines speed by through the night as we drove away from another show at a church somewhere out in the middle of America.

I had undoubtedly taken my opportunity at some point to tell someone enthusiastically about what I was doing as an artist myself, about my website or my MySpace page (ahh, the good ol’ days…). I probably told them that I was pretty good and how quickly I had gotten a pro gig after moving, or something stupid like that.

So now, riding along in the dark, the patriarchal DJ Maj admonished me in a spirit of paternal love. He said, “Brian, if you will give us a chance, we’ll tell people you’re good. We’ll toot your horn so you don’t have to do it yourself. But you don’t leave the people around you—people who love you—a chance to do that. You have to trust that it will come out when it needs to.”

I thought about this for a minute, embarrassed at my own immaturity. He was dead right. The thing is, I wasn’t going around telling people these things because I was arrogant. To the contrary, I was telling them because I lacked the confidence that it would come out if I didn’t. I was insecure and fearful. I had to make sure that someone said that I was a good musician, so I took the task upon myself.

My friends in that van assured me that, if you relax and trust, it will come out, and you won’t have to say it. Finally, Maj proffered the icing on the cake: “What’s more convincing, Brian? You saying, ‘I’m really good, you should listen to me!’ or me saying, ‘My buddy Brian is really good. You should really take a listen to him!’ Which would you be more likely to pay attention to?”

Obviously, that’s a no-brainer. The former is annoying. The latter is compelling.

And so I shut up. And I developed patience. I began to believe: whatever needs to come out, will come out naturally in due time. Humility and self-possession are far more impressive than insecurity masked by bravado.

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In a recent blog post about authenticity, fellow Nashvillian Jeff Goins said, “Our culture is so image-centric and self-focused that it’s easy to think if we don’t pat ourselves on the back no one will.”

He also said, “It’s better to be remarkable in the dark than to prematurely toot your own horn.” (Can you tell I’m a Goins fan? He’s right on the money and he says it well.)

To be clear, I’m still not perfect at this. I’m substantially better at it than I used to be, though.

So you want others to toot your horn? It’s very simple. Shut your mouth, surround yourself with great people, pour into them, sing their praises, go about doing your work well, and trust.

It will come out in time.

If I may challenge you, look for an opportunity this week to not toot your horn. Identify a moment where you recognize that you would like someone to be aware of your talent or accomplishments. Then, specifically don’t say it. Let it be said–or let it not be said–and find contentment either way, trusting that that which needs to be said will be said.



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