How to be a great advocate
Main idea: Ways to be a great mentor gets a lot of attention, but we often overlook the importance of being a great advocate. An advocate can have an immediate impact on the organization and people's careers. This blog presents practical ways that leaders can quickly become powerful advocates within their organizations.
One who pleads the cause of another; specifically: one who pleads the cause of another before a tribunal or judicial court
I read somewhere that an advocate for a cause can change the course of the world. If that is true then an advocate for people can change the course of careers and lives. There are not enough personal advocates in the world; a person who publicly supports and recommends a particular individual.
We hear a lot of advice on mentoring and the act of mentoring is incredibly valuable, but are you also a good advocate?
A mentor and an advocate do not have to be one in the same. I've worked with great advocates who bumble their way through mentoring. I've also seen great mentors who look like a deer in headlights when presented the opportunity to advocate. A common problem is that many companies focus their efforts and resources on developing mentors and in that effort innocently ignore the value of developing great advocates.
Mentoring primarily develops downward and the benefits may not be seen for years. Advocacy promotes laterally and upward and the benefits are seen immediately.
Some of the best advocates I have had were not mentors at all, but believed in my work and saw the value I could bring to the company. They advocated for me in the presence of their peers and their leaders by ensuring others were properly informed of my skills, abilities, values, and career goals. And maybe, more importantly, they defended me when there was misinformation presented. The intent of advocacy is always to further the organization.
Proper advocacy in an organizational setting ensures employees are represented, insights of skills and talents are shared, and sound decision making on the investments in people are made with the best possible information.
Most leaders struggle to advocate because they either don't know how or the culture in which they are working stifles it. Organizations usually lack proper forums to advocate, the structure and guidance on what to advocate, and coaching on how to advocate.
In the worst cases, advocacy does not happen because of an environment that encourages survival of the fittest. In these environments, individuals are enabled to self-promote over promoting others. The false appearance of advocacy can dangerously show up in the form of humble-bragging, protection of resources, and one-upmanship at the team or division level.
Advocacy is a building block of learning organizations.
Within an advocacy culture stacked with leaders who demonstrate the skills to advocate an organization can (1) make smarter decisions about future leaders, (2) improve the quality of mentoring and training, (3) better leverage the strengths of its employees, and (4) build a more loyal workforce.
Peer advocates form a bond of trust that facilitates feedback and sharing between leaders. I've witnessed leaders who are skilled at advocating turn to their fellow peer advocates first when discussing internal talent moves. They also look for opportunities to engage people on x-functional projects. These leaders have insights about the business and the problems occurring further down in the organization because of the insights they gain from advocating and partnering with peer advocates.
As a leader, you have the potential to change the course of people's careers. Here are some ways to become a great advocate:
1. Look for opportunities to advocate. Advocating can occur throughout the day in a number of different ways and isn't something to hold back until the next staff review. I've seen leaders in business meetings recognize a business problem and pro-actively advocate for an individual best fit to tackle the issues.
It is great to have structured and planned forums for discussing the talent in the organization, but it can also become an enabler for poor advocacy . I once worked with a manager who did a meticulous job of keeping notes about the people he wanted to advocate for, unfortunately, he would hold on to this information only to unveil it a couple times a year when it was formally requested through reviews.
2. The best advocates have an elevator pitch for the people they are advocating for. This is a 30-60 second description that highlights the talents and value the individual brings to the organization. The best advocates are very clear with the people they support that they are advocating for them. Be direct that you want to be an advocate and that you need to understand their strengths, values, and potential so that you can convey it clearly and with integrity.
This type of preparation and transparency is also very motivating. Most people will strive to live up to the expectations knowing there is someone actively advocating on their behalf and it's also a powerful boost to confidence.
3. Know who and what you're fighting for. I worked with an executive who was great about creating awareness for the people who worked for him and on its surface he appeared to be a great advocate. It seemed that at every meeting he was sure to let people know about the individuals he was advocating for. He was a great "cheerleader", but it was a very broad approach to generating awareness.
While this can be helpful, it's not the most effective approach. Contrast this with another executive I worked with who was very clear about why they were advocating and the benefits from her efforts. Sometimes she was fighting for the employee, other times it was for a particular project, and other times it was the long-term health of the organization. Connecting why you're advocating within the context and how it benefits others is very powerful.
4. Share your passion. Don't hold back your passion for the people you're advocating for. It is not enough to simply share all the great data points because the act of advocating is a personal endeavor. Reflect on how you would want others advocating for you. Is it enough to share a few interesting resume facts or better to pound your fist on the table with excitement about the people you believe in?
5. Challenge the conditions in which advocating can flourish. This is the hardest problem to tackle, but if you're committed to the organization it's worth the pain and time it will take to change the culture. This includes looking at both the formal and informal ways in which advocating can occur. Start first with the easier task of ensuring there are advocating forums planned and organized. Next, start tackling the informal nuances of the culture that encourages advocacy.
Call to action:
Bang your fist on the table and start advocating! People's careers are depending on you. If you learned something from this blog or know someone who could, please share, it's the fuel that encourages me to keep writing.
About the author:
Kris Potrafka, Ph.D. is the Founder and CEO of Music Firsthand, a music technology start-up. He is a former operations and HR executive working with leaders to solve complex organizational development challenges. Follow Kris on Medium and connect with him on LinkedIn.