In life, you will have people who will think well of you, some will even support you by listening to your ideas and even sharing some of their own. Some may even give you advice and guide you if you're open to it. There are those will give you an email introduction to their network or give you names of people in their network to contact. A small subset of people you will meet and/or work with will be your advocate.
Now in many organizations, there comes a time of year when a group of senior people get in a room to put people into buckets for purposes of merit increases, bonuses, perhaps promotions and in general talk about rising stars and those who are not. When that time comes, you want your advocate in the room to make sure you get into the right bucket.
Who is an advocate and how do they differ from all the other types of people I mentioned above?
An advocate is someone who:
- Is trustworthy and respected by others
- Is well-networked particularly to people in the area you wish move toward
- Knows you and your work well. This means that they have spent time with you and understand your aspirations and have first-hand knowledge of your work, contributions, character and style of leadership. For example. This should not be someone who has only been on a conference call with you or rarely interacts with you. If challenged, this person should be so familiar with you, they can and are willing to be your champion at the table.
- Has a seat at the table
- Has influence currency - people listen to what they say and tend to follow their lead
- Are willing and able - meaning they have the skill of articulation - to speak compellingly about you.
- Genuinely is enthusiastic about seeing you reach your goals and having you be a key part of the future of the organization.
What will make you attractive to someone to be your advocate? Two things:
Relationship Currency: You build this by...
- Getting out there and connecting with others. This is a give and take exercise and way of being in the world.
- Become known by speaking, writing, posting, blogging, volunteering, going to conferences and networking. It is important that people know you exist and what difference are you making. Share your work internally and externally. Help others live into their aspirations by sharing your knowledge that may be helpful to them. If you do interesting and meaningful work and no one knows it's like smiling at someone in the dark. You know what you're doing but no one else does. Being isolated may make you the best thing that never happens.
Value Currency: This is about the quality of the contribution you make through your performance. You build this by...
- Making sure you are focused on contributing in the areas your boss and your leaders care about most.
- Making sure that you drive results AND that you do it in a way that is honorable, mature, insightful and collaborative. Today, employers and senior execs who are building their succession plan are looking for people who can lead and operate in the paradox: that is to say opposite ways of being for example, someone who can be decisive and inclusive. Someone who is a compelling talker and has a keen listening expertise.
- If you have your eye to advance to a certain level find out what it takes to get there and become actively involved in projects or initiatives in that area. Become an SME in something.
When you find at least one person who is willilng and able to be your advocate, sit with them and create a strategy and make sure they are clear as to your goals...not only the what but the why and how. Find a way to say thank you and consider what you've learned by how they advocated for you because someday you will be in a position to pay it forward and advocate for someone else.