How To Start Advocating For What You Want in Your Career

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Self-advocacy can be difficult for many professionals. Even if you know you do excellent quality work, it is easy to get buffeted about by the things that are in front of you, the urgent items that require your attention. When you are also responsible for others, it can feel like all your time goes toward “making the machine go,” to the detriment of your own personal and professional priorities and career fulfillment. 

The good news is that, even if you feel that you are not a natural self-advocator, it is a learnable skill

Many executives I coach think of self-advocacy as bragging, tooting their own horn, or even selfish. It is not uncommon for a professional to tell me that it is hard for them to muster the courage for self-promotion, especially when inundated with so many more pressing priorities. As a result, personal needs and goals languish and resentment grows. 

On the other end of the spectrum, some leaders seem to have absolutely no hesitation promoting themselves, standing up for what they need and asking for what they feel they deserve. It can seem like they always get what they want! For those more reserved colleagues who believe their excellent work quality “should speak for itself,” it can be maddening. 

The key to self-advocating well is to reframe your need so that it is of service to both yourself and others. Reframing is an essential implement in the coach’s toolbox, and means to “craft a new interpretation.” It is a mighty method for getting unstuck.

When you reframe the need, you re-interpret it to craft a win-win scenario for all parties. Done with integrity, reframing is a powerful way to pave the path to what you want, while building a bridge for leadership to connect how complying with your request will benefit them and/or the organization.

A Path to Self Advocacy

If you have a hard time standing up for what is important to you, thinking about your want or need as a way to be of service to others is a game changer. You don’t have to brag; rather, complying with your request is simply good business! 

For example, Dan felt personally galvanized to attend a conference outside the mainstream business of his company. He made a compelling case to attend by citing how it would help him think outside the box and come back with fresh ideas for how to make the business better. He got approval to go and came back with a disruptive idea that the company implemented.

Lauren wanted to advance to the next rung on her career ladder, something she instinctively knew directly correlated to having regular facetime with senior leadership. However, her boss frequently canceled their 1-on-1 meetings. By focusing on the bigger picture, she reframed the agenda for her 1-on-1s to devote part of the time to big picture strategy related to her key objectives, part to her professional development, and part to helping prepare materials for senior management to support her boss. The result was a win-win: she got more reliable facetime to display her leadership and strategic chops, and her boss received support with key objectives and presentation preparation.

How Do You Start Advocating for What You Want?

To start advocating for yourself, here are five simple steps to guide you.

  1. Identify what you want to shift, distilling it down to a concrete ask.
  2. List five ways you can position the request to be a win-win.
  3. Pick the way that you find the most energizing. 
  4. Run your idea by a trusted colleague for input, if you’d like a second opinion.   
  5. Put your plan into action.

By reframing how you think about advocating for yourself and making it authentic to who you are, you increase your chances of getting what you want while positively raising your profile.

Photo credit via istockphoto: kate_sept2004