Advocates are your best friends and wise mentors. So give them the time and respect that position deserves. They will be invaluable in helping you to overcome obstacles and help build your understanding of the political reality around your goals and your work. Although they will probably volunteer to solve problems for you, try to resist this. It can be less effective than you may think, and until you learn to stand on your own feet your career may get stuck. It is on Advocates that you should ideally focus much of your attention.
Remember that you cannot be complacent with them. Sure, they are already in a good position, but are they really advocating your goal? An Advocate will go out of their way to speak up on your behalf. When you’re not at the meeting, they will be proactive in protecting your position and promoting your goal. This is different from a supporter, who may stand up for you when prompted.
On the Stakeholder Influence Map, Advocates actually sit at the top right of the box. Down towards the bottom left you’ll find the supporters. My challenge to you is – how can you move important people up to the far right so they become mobilised, proactive and start using their power to make things happen for you?
An obvious first step is introducing them to your compelling vision, taking them through the benefits they will accumulate when you are successful and consulting with them to find new ways to improve progress on a goal you will both benefit from.
Another thing you can do is to step back from the Influencing Goal you are working at and look at the bigger picture of your relationship. The chances are high that if they are advocating one of your goals, they’ll also be advocating most of your goals – and you as an individual. In all likelihood, what you have here is a fan. You have trust, the relationship is open and frequent, they like what you are doing and things will be working well between you two. Does this work the other way too? Are you their fan? Do you advocate their work, projects and goals?
In my experience, imbalances are okay, but serious differences usually lead to trouble in the relationship further down the road. If they are a strong fan of you for a few years and then they work out that you consider them to be an idiot, it could get rather difficult between you two! Anything you can do which will improve the balance in your relationship will enhance it and make it stronger – for mutual benefit.
Here are some more ideas on to improve the relationship with Advocates…
- Advocate your Advocates. By proactively promoting others in your network, you are more likely to get the favour returned. They are more likely to treat you well and look after your interests. So look for genuine things you can shout out about.
- Consider competition. In the mind of an Advocate, who else could they promote instead of you? People are only able to advocate one person or project at any given moment, so whom are you competing with in their portfolio of friends? How can you raise yourself on their radar ahead of the others?
- Become distinctive. What is it about you that can raise you in the mind of your Advocates? What sets you apart from the crowd? If you can develop your uniqueness and it is something your Advocate really values, they are much more likely to be shouting about you. So work on your personal brand and personal power.
- Add more value. Make sure and continue to add value to your Advocates in the area you want them to promote you in. If you can get yourself into the position of being their resident expert, someone they refer to when they need advice and support, you’ll be doing really well. The best way of advancing this is to keep thinking of ways you can enrich your relationship by adding more value.
- Give feedback. When someone approaches you as a result of an Advocate promoting you, find a time to thank your Advocate and let them know what happened. Not only will they appreciate the feeling that they have done something good, but it will also reinforce the behaviour and make it more likely they will do it again. It also gives you another opportunity to boost yourself in their mind.
- Ask them. Delicately, but in the right way, let them know what you want and even negotiate with them to speak out on your behalf. This is usually (and sadly) something which seems to be necessary with many bosses who are missing opportunities to stand up and shout out for their staff. They should be doing this; and if they are not, why not? So if there is someone who you believe should be advocating you or your project/goal, go find out why not and see if you can motivate them to change.