“I learned a long time ago that the wisest thing I can do is be on my own side, be an advocate for myself and others like me.”
~ Maya Angelou
Melanie is in a total funk. She’s been supervisor in her high tech company for almost three years now. When she first came on board, she was considered somewhat of a superstar, a high potential, high achieving future leader. Lately, however, she feels she’s been fading into the woodwork. She’s not being asked to take on high profile projects. Sometimes she’s not even invited to brainstorming sessions or brown bag lunches—those informal, off-the-record meetings where a lot of new ideas and strategies are being discussed. What could possibly be wrong?
Melanie unburdens herself to a close pal over lunch. Her friend listens patiently for a few minutes and then interrupts the litany of complaints with this advice: “Girlfriend, what you need is an advocate!”
Immediately Melanie begins to research the whole topic of advocates at work. Shortly, she has put together a four-step plan to raise her profile by using advocates. Here’s the plan:
- Advocate for yourself first
- Make your boss a partner
- Look up
- Look out
Before you can ask anyone else to speak up on your behalf, which is what advocates do, you need to know your own strengths and your potential for growth. Start by creating a three-column spreadsheet with these headings:
- What I do well
- What I like to do
- What I need to learn
Once you have a clear picture of who you are now and what potential you have, you are ready for Step 2:
2. Make your boss a partner.
Almost everyone loves being asked for advice. Maybe you already have a good relationship with your boss, or maybe the relationship needs a little nurturing. Either way, schedule a one-on-one and ask him/her to help you create a personal development plan. This can include new projects or initiatives you’d like to tackle, courses or seminars you want to take—anything related to your professional growth is fair game. Come up with a timeline and begin to implement your plan.
3. Look up.
The best place to find your first advocate is probably somewhere on the ladder above you in the company. Begin to notice people whose style and executive presence you admire. Then use the same technique you developed in Step 2—ask for advice. Over a cup of coffee or in some other informal setting, share an idea or project you’re working on. Ask for their input. Then ask for their help. “Joe, I need someone who knows me and can help me raise my profile a bit. Would you be willing to speak up about my accomplishments to some of your colleagues?”
4. Look out.
Use the same strategy to find people outside the company who can act as your personal publicist. It may be a client, or someone in a professional organization, or just a friend who has contacts inside your company. Ask for their input on your ideas; then ask them to look for opportunities to speak up for you.
And above all, don’t forget to say “thank you.”
Three months after she began to implement her plan, Melanie landed a couple of high profile assignments and found that she was back on the company radar screen and moving ahead again.