Advocating for Yourself: Part 3


Welcome back to the last post in our three-part series on advocating for yourself! Advocating for yourself is not fun – but the good news is that we can get better at it. We started with creating your own personal brand and followed up with tips for communicating with management. Today, we’re going to focus on creating and maintaining relationships in the workplace.

Our tips come from interviews with influential leaders across the country at all levels of management and in different sectors of our economy. Each pointed out that matters how you treat people. It’s easier to advocate for others than it is to advocate for yourself – and that can be an advantage. If you’re careful to build high-functioning and meaningful relationships with the people around you, you can advocate for each other.

Be nice
Don’t be a jerk.  Rudimentary? Yes, but it’s crazy how often civility goes out the window at work. This doesn’t mean be fake or take a beating. You do have to be a professional, which sometimes means putting a smile on your face and being the bigger person.

Help the people around you when you can. Listen to them when you can’t. Do small things that make people’s lives easier. It’ll make you happier at work.

Draw your circle wide
If you draw a small circle around yourself, where you’re only communicating well with the people above you or only take care of your small team, no one else will trust you. The perception will be that you have narrow interests and can’t see beyond yourself. That you do your boss’ bidding without question. That you’re sucking up to move ahead.

Instead, take the time to create meaningful relationships with people in different positions (above you, at your level, and below) all around your agency. Be friendly and greet people in meetings. Take the time to connect with them personally. You’ll be seen as a person who can be worked with – someone who can bridge gaps between different groups and their interests. You’ll have a broader perspective of the agency’s work and how everyone fits in.

Advocate for others
When you draw your circle wide, be sure that you advocate for the people in your big circle. Here are a few circumstances when you can use your power for good:

  1. Advocate for others when your needs and interests are aligned (obvious).
  2. Advocate for others when you don’t have a dog in the fight. If the request doesn’t affect you and you can help out a partner, then help them out.
  3. Shine a light on others. When you see someone doing something well, point it out instead of feeling threatened. Thank them. Sent a shout-out email. Figure out a meaningful way to appreciate them.
  4. Advocate for others when they need help. For example, you’ve cultivated a meaningful relationship with a colleague. A new job is posted and they’re a great fit for the position. Advocate for them. Help them put their best self forward. Work behind the scenes and within your circle of relationships. When I’ve applied for new jobs or wanted to get on a new project in the past, I’ve asked trusted colleagues for their help and advice – I very gladly give it in return. Not because I owe them, but because they’re awesome people and I want to have a hand in them succeeding.

Bring people up behind you
We all have amazing people who have come before us. They paved the way for our careers and mentored us. In return, it’s our duty to mentor, coach, and generally be there for the people coming up behind us. It’s also a smart business practice. You should always have several people who are mentored and ready to step up. It’s good succession planning.

Build an inclusive, supportive community around you where people can support each other. This community can build its members up instead of being threatened when something goes well for one of its members.

The paradox of power and of advocacy is that you can gain power by giving it away. By building meaningful relationships, shining a light on others, and bringing people up behind you, you can create a successful community at work where you can share your goals. Build others up and they’ll do the same for you.

Please leave any thoughts you have below. Thanks for reading this series on advocating for yourself and a special thanks goes out to the leaders and mentors who contributed their thoughts and advice!

Lauren Lien is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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My momma always said that if you can’t be a good example be a really clear warning. Consider my career a really, really clear warning – If you want to move up in your field and make your voice heard productively, take a different path than I did. I spent most of my career in small offices at a huge agency and didn’t have the natural urge to reach out on my own. With no mentor there to advise me, I blindly went on my merry way not realizing I was falling further and further behind my peers who were more connected. The problem was not my ability to get along with people, but my inability to see the benefit in making an effort to connect outside my little circle of immediate responsibilities. Consequently, when I needed allies there was no one to call on and no one knew me well enough to take me at my word. 25 years of being the outsider who struggles to get heard and promoted is way more uncomfortable than checking in with your boss every morning.