Mastering the art of self-advocacy is a skill that will pay off in spades as you navigate your leadership career and influence and lead your team. Yet so many leaders wait to be chosen, recognized, or funded and then get frustrated with a more vocal colleague wins favor. Oftentimes, there are mindsets that have been developed in childhood that stand in the way of enabling a leader to get comfortable with self-advocating. Read on to learn why it's important to know what is self advocacy, and examples of how learning how to do this made a big difference for other leaders, and steps to take to get more comfortable with self-advocating.
What is Self-Advocacy and its Importance in Leadership
Self-advocacy is a crucial skill that plays a pivotal role in personal and professional satisfaction. It involves speaking up for oneself, asserting one's needs and rights, and taking responsibility for one's own growth and success. In the realm of leadership, self-advocacy becomes even more vital, as it enables leaders to inspire and empower others through their actions and words. It also enables leaders to influence the future- their own and their team’s.
Leaders who excel at self-advocacy possess a deep understanding of their strengths, weaknesses, and goals. Leaders who don’t feel comfortable self-advocating or choose not to risk longer times to promotion (or none at all), losing projects they are passionate about, unfavorable decisions that impact their team, and the list goes on. Self-advocacy can also have a positive impact on the leader’s team. A leader who advocates for themselves sets a precedent for their team members to do so as well. This creates a culture of empowerment and encourages individuals to take initiative, voice their ideas, and contribute to the collective success of the organization. In short, learning to master the art of self-advocacy helps leaders navigate a career path that is more likely to lead to fulfillment and improves the impact their team can make.
The Role of Self-Advocacy in Professional and Team Development
Now that we know what is self advocacy and its importance in leadership, it won't be wrong to say that self-advocacy starts with personal awareness. A great place for leaders to start is by recognizing and embracing their own unique qualities, abilities and values, as well as acknowledging areas for improvement. By fully understanding oneself, leaders can create greater awareness about what they want and decrease the possibility that “shiny penny” syndrome will distract their path. Once the goal is clear, learning how to self-advocate in a way that feels authentic is key.
Many leaders I’ve worked with have confused self-advocacy with bragging and a conceited focus on self. This is a limiting interpretation that is usually rooted in childhood teachings and cultural norms. Learning to untangle these associations is an important part of getting comfortable with self-advocating.
Self-advocating is not about dismissing the needs of everyone else for selfish pursuit. In the context of leadership, self-advocacy is about leading by example and inspiring others to do the same. A leader who advocates for themselves sets a precedent for their team members to do so as well. Not only does this help the leader influence important decisions made that impact them and their team, it also gives those decision makers valuable information to enable them to get to the best decision. When a leader models self-advocacy for their team, they create a culture of empowerment that encourages individuals to take initiative, voice their ideas, and contribute to the collective success of the organization.
Self-Advocacy Examples: Case Studies That Reveal How Self-Advocacy has Propelled Leaders to Success
There are countless individuals whose lives have been transformed by self-advocacy. Take the case of Sarah, a young professional who struggled with self-doubt and a fear of speaking up in meetings. Through coaching and personal development, Sarah learned to embrace her strengths, challenge her assumption that no one wanted to hear her opinion, and eventually, she become comfortable advocating for herself. As a result, she gained the confidence to share her ideas, contribute to strategic discussions, and ultimately, earn a promotion.
Another case study is John, an aspiring entrepreneur who faced numerous rejections when seeking investment for his startup. Instead of giving up, John worked on building comfort with self-advocacy. Over time, he was able to refine his pitch to one that better highlighted his strengths, build a strong network, and get key meetings with decision makers. His determination and ability to advocate for his business led to securing the funding he needed to launch his venture successfully. Today, John's company is thriving, and he attributes his success to his mindset shift that it was OK to talk about himself favorably to help him gain traction. I hope these self advocacy examples were able to add some value to your existing knowledge about self advocacy.
Tips for Developing Self-Advocacy Skills
Developing comfort with self-advocacy can be a gradual process that requires self-reflection, practice, and support. Thus, you must be very clear about what is self advocacy and why do you even want to focus on it. Here are some practical tips to help you master the art of self-advocacy:
Take the time to understand your strengths, weaknesses, values, and goals. This self-awareness will serve as a foundation for effective self-advocacy. You can do this through assessments, coaching, therapy, journaling, a support group, etc. Find the medium that’s right for you and start there.
Assertiveness involves expressing your needs, ideas, and concerns in a clear and respectful manner. Practice assertive communication in low-stakes conversations to build comfort with the practice. Over time, expand this new skill-set to higher stakes conversations until any anxiety or discomfort that you had around doing this disappears. This will help you to build confidence and develop your advocacy skills.
Seek feedback and mentorship:
Actively seek feedback from trusted mentors and colleagues. Their insights can help you identify areas for improvement and provide valuable guidance on how to advocate for yourself effectively.
Self-advocacy often requires stepping outside of your comfort zone. Embrace discomfort as an opportunity for growth and challenge yourself to speak up even when it feels difficult. Keep pushing through the discomfort- on the other side of that is growth and success.
Celebrate small wins:
Recognize and celebrate your achievements along the way. Building self-advocacy skills is a journey, and acknowledging your progress will keep you motivated and inspired.
Empowering others through Self-Advocacy: Leading by Example
As a leader, your ability to empower others through self-advocacy is invaluable. Finding your own voice and comfort with self-advocacy will set a valuable example for your team. When you model self-advocacy behavior, you inspire those around you to find their voice and take ownership of their growth. Here are some ways you can lead by example:
Encourage open communication:
Create a safe and inclusive environment where team members feel comfortable expressing their ideas, concerns, and aspirations.
Provide opportunities for growth:
Support the professional development of your team members by offering training, mentorship, and challenging assignments that allow them to advocate for themselves.
Recognize and celebrate achievements:
Acknowledge and reward individuals who demonstrate self-advocacy and achieve their goals. This reinforces the importance of self-advocacy and motivates others to follow suit.
Foster a culture of feedback:
Encourage regular feedback and constructive dialogue within your team. This promotes continuous improvement and empowers individuals to advocate for their needs and professional development.
Resources to Help
If you are eager to further develop your self-advocacy skills and enhance your leadership abilities, there are numerous resources available to support your journey. Here are a few recommendations:
- Books: "The Self-Aware Leader: Play to Your Strengths, Unleash Your Team” by John C. Maxwell, "Daring Greatly" by Brené Brown, and "The Confidence Code" by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman provide valuable insights and practical strategies for self-advocacy and leadership.
- Workshops and seminars: Look for workshops and seminars that focus on communication skills, assertiveness, and leadership development. These interactive sessions can provide valuable tools and techniques to enhance your self-advocacy skills.
- Professional coaching: Engaging a professional coach can provide personalized guidance and support as you navigate your self-advocacy and leadership journey. A coach can help you identify blind spots, set goals, and develop strategies to overcome challenges.
Inspire and Empower Those Around You
Mastering the art of self-advocacy is a transformative process that enables individuals to become more effective leaders who influence how their career unfolds and inspires and empowers others. By developing self-awareness, practicing assertiveness, and embracing resilience, leaders can create environments where self-advocacy thrives.
If you struggle with self-advocating, remember that it is never too late to develop this crucial skill. Seek out the support and resources you need, whether it be through coaching, workshops, or books. By finding your voice and advocating for yourself, you will not only enhance your own personal and professional development but also create a ripple effect of inspiration and empowerment in those around you.
If you are ready to embark on this journey of gaining comfort with self-advocacy to enhance your leadership, let's chat to explore how to help you find your voice.
About The Author
Amy Sanchez is a certified executive and career coach located in the Bay Area who specializes in helping mid- to senior-level executives achieve their full potential and build the lives they want.
She has an MBA from USC’s Marshall School of Business and 13 years of corporate experience.
She is a skilled coach and neutral partner who provides clients with tangible tools and effective guidance to successfully navigate the waters of this fast-paced, hyper-connected, high-stakes job market.