I have been a sucker for riddles since first encountering them in the form of bad jokes (Q: How do you catch a squirrel? A: Climb up a tree and act like a nut.) on the side of a Dixie cup in kindergarten. But my all-time favorite is one that has provoked thought for generations – “If a tree falls in a forest but nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Quantum physics aside, what resonates personally is the message that not expressing your thoughts or opinions can hurt you professionally and personally. And even when you have had a career of phenomenal achievements, a hesitancy to self-advocate can cost you in terms of pay raises and promotions.
Knowing that you are ready to claim your greatness (cue inspirational background music at this point), here are five tips for mastering the art of self-advocacy:
1. Be willing to self-promote. Okay, this doesn’t mean taking a megaphone out when the CEO walks by to shout “reduced costs by 43%” or “launched new software system on-time and under-budget” like a used car salesman. However, thoughtfully sharing your ideas and accomplishments in the service of others is effective. Let’s say you have been asked to speak at an industry conference. Internally, send an email and/or report about how this speech will benefit the business, thanking everyone who contributed to the innovative program you’ve been asked to present. Notify your firm’s communications team, offering to write a blog post or newsletter content about key learnings from the conference. Post a LinkedIn update about this activity. Consider presenting a webinar to others in the company about how your topic could be used to ignite ideas or improve performance.
2. Make data your BFF. Looking for a raise or promotion? Research the stats to substantiate the ask. Salary surveys benchmarking the role you hold in your geographic market can easily be obtained at sites like www.salary.com. Benchmarking practices that other companies are engaging in can also be effective. For example, you can see the value of starting a data analytics team in your organization and would like to lead it. Talk to three to five comparable organizations about how they handle data analytics, the benefits and drawbacks of specific approaches and then craft the recommendation for managing this area in your organization, including why you are qualified to generate maximum ROI. Just remember that the delivery of your message matters as much as the content behind it.
3. Aim high. Understanding your skills, strengths and weaknesses, where do you see yourself headed in the organization? Now, what happens if you aim higher? Over twenty years ago, a friend of mine enrolled in community college classes took a temporary accounts payable job in a Fortune 500 company. In this first exposure to a professional work environment, he started dreaming about one day becoming a department director. But over time, as hard work and smarts lead to new, bigger opportunities, he started aiming higher. Today that individual works at the C-level of a billion-dollar company, running its highest performing division.
4. Build a career/life strategy. Taking the long-view of your career, which includes breaks for maternity leave or sabbaticals, can help in planning a career path that meets your professional and personal needs. In this Wall Street Journal article called “What’s Holding Women Back in the Workplace?” Microsoft Corp. executive Julie Larson-Green noted “There’s no such thing as work-life balance. There’s only life.” The key is being proactive. Accenture’s Getting to Equal 2017 report found that building a proactive career strategy is one of the critical accelerators in closing the gender pay gap for women. Whether you are just entering the workforce or already work in management, you can consciously design your professional experience at any point. Look at others whose career/personal trajectories you admire – peers and people at all levels of the organization, not just those in more senior roles – and ask for time to obtain their insights.
5. Give your inner saboteur a time out. In the professional executive coaching world(yup, we have one – think of a bunch of individuals who get excited about human potential and organizational development, sort of like how Comic-Con enthusiasts view pop culture), that internal voice that sometimes holds you back is called the “inner saboteur.” It might have started many years ago to help keep you safe in some way, but now the saboteur chimes in with thoughts like “what if you fail,” “maybe you’re not good enough” or “don’t rock the boat,” when you strive to make big, positive changes in your life. We’ve all had them at some point. Unfortunately, trying to ignore these thoughts can be ineffective. Instead, listen to what they say, thank them for any benefit gained from their protection in the past, explain why you have decided to behave differently now – and then take the major leap forward. I have seen people do this effectively in a journal entry, as a visualization exercise or as an imagined conversation in their head. Whatever the case, giving the inner saboteur a time out helps you claim your greatness.
What steps have you taken to become a better self-advocate? Have a story to share about asking for and then receiving what you want?