Self-advocacy at work becomes an invaluable skill once you’re a leader. Here are three simple ways to start naturally integrating a self-advocacy strategy into your career strategy.
One of the recurring arguments my partner, Paul, and I have is that he thinks I disagree with everything he says. Of course, I don’t think this is true (irony).
The way I see it, I agree with him a lot… most of the time, in fact. But when I don’t agree, I don’t fake it and pretend I agree just to keep the peace. That’s disingenuous and goes against my values. I rarely (if ever) lie just to make things easier.
The best I can do in situations like this is say (or do) nothing… which is still pretty hard for me, but it’s slightly better than faking it.
I think a lot of people are like that. They’ll do nothing or go silent, rather than be fake.
And this, my leaderly friends, is why a lot of people avoid self-advocacy at work. I hear it all the time… it feels fake. It feels slimy and weird. It feels disingenuous.
This may be true for you. And what’s also true is …
Self-advocacy at work becomes an invaluable skill once you’re a leader.
I’d even go as far as saying it’s a necessary skill because if you’re doing the leadership bit well, you’re often not in the spotlight. Your people are the heroes.
So it’s on you to help people see your value. You’re the hero behind the heroes.
In theory, you probably agree with me. I haven’t had a client who didn’t see the value of self-advocacy. And I also haven’t had a client (man, woman or non-binary) who felt comfortable with it at first.
But if you could self-advocate in an authentic, genuine way that feels natural and easy, would you start? Would you prioritize self-advocacy as an important part of your work if was simple to execute?
Probably, right? The problem is you don’t have a lot of good role models for how to do this.
The reason there aren’t many role models is if you’re doing self-advocacy well, no one notices you’re doing it.
You influence people without them knowing they’re being influenced.
You totally notice when someone’s being slimy and fake… but when someone’s self-advocating confidently and naturally, it’s invisible.
The secret to self-advocacy at work is, it’s a secret.
And because of that, it’s actually simpler to execute than you might think.
Here are three simple ways to start naturally integrating a self-advocacy strategy into your career strategy.
#1: Know Your Messages
It’s great to decide to self-advocate, but what are you self-advocating for? Meaning… what do you want people to know about you?
The more focused you are in the messages you send, the quicker your messages sink in and create influence.
If you saw the same billboard on the way to work every morning that told you SHARPIES are the best quality marker in the world, very soon you’ll start associating quality with the SHARPIE.
I want to offer that YOU are also a brand.
It doesn’t matter if these attributes are slightly aspirational, in fact that will help you become this version of you faster.
The important thing is…
As a brand, you must decide the key messages you want to keep sending to people over and over again.
Don’t get overwhelmed… start with one message and build over time.
#2: Prioritize Your Audience
You definitely don’t have to be everything to everybody. Decide ahead of time who the key stakeholders are that need to be invested in your growth.
Internally, who are voices that people will listen to when the time comes to assess your performance? Remember it’s not always the most senior person. Your peers, reports, clients and even supplier partners will have something to say and it’s your job to decide who’s voice you want to influence.
P.S. You don’t have to start with everyone (even though you’ll want to). Start with one. Start with two… and build from there.
And don’t forget about going outside your organization.
Even if you have great credentials and prospects in your current organization, things can change on a dime. You can get a new boss who doesn’t appreciate you, your assignment can change or the market changes and then you don’t get what you’re promised.
And by the time you’re frustrated with waiting… you’re already on your back foot and starting from scratch.
That’s why I recommend a concurrent external strategy.
You don’t have to spend a ton of time on it… but remember, slow and steady wins the race. Even if you have a couple of “coffee chats” with a former colleague every month… in a year, you’ve met with 24 people, who know what you do and what you want and who have a bunch of contacts of their own.
Another strategy is to do 1-2 speaking engagements a year in your industry organization. In today’s digital world, you’re not just influencing the people who were there, you’re touching hundreds if not thousands of people by amplifying your messages through social.
So prioritize your audience list. It doesn’t have to be a huge list. Start small, get some traction and then add on as you go.
And if you’re overwhelmed, pick one person to practice on, and then go from there.
#3: Create Consistent Influence
Now that you know the messages you want to send and who needs to hear them, you can devise the most influential strategy for the specific audience.
Remember the book “How To Win Friends and Influence People” (mandatory reading by the way). Our buddy Dale Carnegie reminds us, if you want to influence what people think, you must know what motivates them.
The key with self-advocacy at work is you’re getting purposeful about how you do your job in front of key stakeholders… that’s all.
So if the message you want people to know is you’re a leader that builds critical thinkers, then job #1 is to make sure you’re executing against that strategy in front of your chosen stakeholders.
Let’s take your boss as an example, since that’s someone most people want to influence. Let’s say you want your boss to believe you grow critical thinkers. Great! What are some intentional ways you can integrate that into you the day job?
- Help your boss critically think through problems (leading people goes in all directions).
- Send them a monthly “flippable” email with the big problems you and your team solved this month, and how it helped advance the business goals. Make it something they can flip to their boss so you all look good.
- Don’t want to do an email? Make it a consistent part of your 1-1 sessions with your boss. Talk about the progress your people are making in how they think through situations.
- Let your boss see you doing it with one of your reports (if the opportunity presents itself)
Those are just four things that came to me in this moment. I’m 100% sure if I asked you to brainstorm 10 more ideas on how you can naturally integrate this into the day job – you’d figure it out.
Take a look at your calendar this week… what are 3 instances where you can intentionally influence your boss?
BOTTOM LINE: Self-advocacy at work is something you do intentionally and naturally. You’re doing it well if it’s invisible and integrated into how you do your job. Start small. Pick one message with one person, and then as you get the hang of it, you can expand your strategy.
There’s no rush.
Most of you haven’t done anything up until now, so every little thing you do is going to start adding up fast. And in a quarter from now, your brand equity is going to be through the roof.