OK I totally screwed up. Now if you were my mom you would tell me not only to not use that language but she would be quick to point out that I didn’t actually screw up anything. But here’s the deal. I did you a disservice.
Last week I did an episode where I basically got on top of my soapbox and preached that you should never wait for your performance review to ask for a raise or a promotion. I give you all the reasons this is such a bad idea and I even show you what you can do differently. But what I didn’t give you is “HOW to actually advocate for yourself.”
I mean it’s easy for me to say that you should walk into your boss’s office MONTHS before your performance review and tell her that you want a promotion. I am a solopreneur. I am the boss. Sure I have to advocate for myself to get clients but that’s different. And I want to acknowledge that.
You might have even said out loud - easy for you to say:
You don’t know my boss
That’s not the way thing’s work here
I tried that but it just doesn’t work
In today’s episode I am remeding my screw up. Advocating for yourself is a subtle dance. There are intricacies to it and unless you are explicitly taught this delicate balance, you’ll never know what that looks like. In fact, you might know the opposite.
You might be the person that waited until your performance review. You walked in that day with a very specific offer in mind. You knew you and your team had delivered results all year. You knew you were excellent at your job. Everyone around you can’t believe you aren’t a director. So your boss will have no choice but to follow through. Only to discover the hard way that is not the case.
Or maybe you are just the opposite. You have spoken up for yourself too much. So now your boss is giving you the cold shoulder and thinks your pushy, arrogant or even worse - annoying.
I have a private coaching client who was constantly worried about being seen as too pushy or arrogant so she never asked for what she wanted. And when she did speak up, guess what, she came off as pushy and arrogant. So I coached her on this dance of advocating for herself and... she found a middle way.
Let me use her as a specific example to show you what I mean. Her goal was to get promoted from the engineering track into a manager. She had expressed this goal to her boss several times and was repeatedly told that it just takes time. But she knew she was ready now.
At her previous company she had managed a team of twenty people. Everyone who knew her agreed that she was ready to manage people. That is, everyone except her boss. She desperately wanted to “show” her boss that she was capable of leading a team NOW and not a few years down the road.
This is where the story gets good. I told you that she wasn’t managing people but she did manage projects and on a particular project, there were a couple of difficult peers. These peers were not traditional team players. They had 20 years seniority on her. They were stuck in their ways. And they even dismissed her ideas openly and publicly. She was stressed out and frustrated with them and one in particular, she even had repeated arguments.
Prior to coaching with me, she would bring this problem to her boss. I don’t know what to do. He doesn’t listen to me. I need your help to straighten him out or get him to listen. She basically made her problem, her boss’s problem.
Now I am going to stop there and point out something - this is where managers really run into trouble when learning to “speak up for themself.” So I make a podcast about how I want you to start advocating for yourself, I want you to have regular 1on1s with your boss. And what do you do, you use that 1on1 time to complain. You tell your boss what you want - yes. What you want is for her to fix your team. But you don’t offer a solution.
Luckily she had me as her coach - an unbiased 3rd party that had the tools to help her solve this specific problem. I coached her how to first stand up for herself with her peer without pissing him off more. I showed her how she was causing part of the problem. And I coached her to get him back on her side, so not only did he stop arguing with her but he started asking for her opinion on things.
So now she has a solution. I think most people would drop the conversation there. You’d be so relieved that you are finally getting along with your peer. You can stop complaining to your boss and finally get your work done.
But I coached her to keep the conversation with her boss about this peer going...and that’s where the magic started to happen. I coached her to return to her boss and let her boss know exactly how she turned that relationship around. I gave her the words to articulate to her boss “why” her peer changed his attitude and what role she played in it.
You remember that her goal was to be seen as a capable leader of people NOW, not two years from now. And by having this follow up conversation with her boss, it allows her boss to start to trust that she does in fact know what she is doing. That she turned this difficult situation around which means that when she is presented with difficult situations as a manager, she can turn those around too.
Do you see where I am going here? Advocating for yourself does not mean complaining or stomping your feet or trying to “prove” yourself. It is simply a chance to share and it gives your boss the opportunity to trust you. And trust is ultimately what is lacking when you aren’t getting the recognition you deserve.
I heard a quote today that I think is super useful when thinking about advocating for yourself. It’s by nobel prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi “If you’re feeling helpless help someone.”
One of the reasons why it feels so difficult to advocate for yourself is because it feels self absorbed. If you are following me, you are not inherently a selfish person. You aren’t motivated by self interest. In fact, the idea of “climbing a corporate ladder” actually repels you. So much so that you refuse to have anything to do with it.
But you do want your work to matter. You want to make a difference at your organization. You want to provide for your children in a way that brings more abundance and resources into their life.
However, in order to really make an impact, in order to have your work matter and to create a better quality of life you do have to climb that corporate ladder a little bit. And I am offering a way for you to do that in your own way.
So this quote, “If you feel helpless, help someone.” provides a starting place to begin advocating for yourself.
How does it work?
Let’s go back to my previous client’s example. She was essentially advocating for herself by following up with her boss and letting her know that the relationship with her peer is improving. Now the question here is - how does this information actually HELP her boss?
- It makes her boss’s job easier. Now she doesn’t have to solve this problem anymore. She can trust that the project will get completed on time and with a lot less friction.
- It allows her boss to trust my client more. Her boss can more freely delegate opportunities to my client that she may not have done otherwise.
- This is the best one - it shifts her boss’s thinking about whether or not she is ready for a people leading role!!!
Now how does thinking that my client is ready for people leading role help her boss? Because, as it turns out, my client’s boss really liked her. She wanted her to succeed. She wasn’t out to get her at all. She was actually just looking out for her. It feels great to have one of your employees do well. And if that person can succeed because you challenged them, even better.
So that’s one piece of it. Get super clear how you advocating for yourself actually HELPS your boss. But the other piece is that it also shows you where you messed up when things go too far.
Now we all know the feeling when advocating went wrong. You can hear it in the other person’ voice. They show with their eyes. Or worse, they put you in your place and embarrass you in front of everyone. Even if that hasn’t happened to you, it’s what you are desperately afraid of and why you don’t actually advocate for yourself.
Now I mentioned earlier that advocating for yourself is a dance. So imagine with me for a second, you are the follower. And you have this magnificent lead dancer. He or she is guiding you effortlessly across the dance floor. It feel incredible. It feels powerful. People like to be led.
Now imagine a different scenario where that lead dancer isn’t quite sure if they should lead or not. They make clunky choices. Sometimes they even let you lead and then go back to leading. You trip over their feet. As the follower you are confused. You wish they would simply take the lead and stop dancing around the issue.
But what I want to point out here is that in that first scenario when the dancer was leading effortlessly, he was not being selfish at all. In fact, he had you mind the entire time. He wanted to make you look good. He wanted to help. But he knew that the best way to do that was to take the lead.
So I invite you to take the lead. Make a decision about a win that you want to share with your boss --- and set up an appointment to share it. Keep in mid these three things that we have talked about today:
- It’s actually helping your boss to advocate for yourself
- People want you to take the lead and speak up.
- As long as you do it with their interest and keep the judgement aside, they will not see it as bragging but instead will be proud and just might do something great for you in return.
There is a buddhist story that goes:
A horse suddenly came galloping quickly down the road. It seemed as though the man had somewhere important to go.
Another man, who was standing alongside the road, shouted, "Where are you going?" and the man on the horse replied,
"I don't know! Ask the horse!"
You are the boss. You have always been the boss. Now it’s time to get out there and take the lead and start advocating for yourself.
See you next week.
Before you go, I want to share with you a very special opportunity to work with me personally as one of my private coaching clients.
My coaching program helps talented directors get promoted. My methodology takes talented professionals from underappreciated, under-recognized and underpaid to respected, rising stars.
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