Having a great boss is a potentially life-changing gift. On the other hand, many of us know firsthand that having a bad boss can cause a lot of drama, headaches, and stress. While it’s easy to love the great bosses and flee the bad ones, there’s one kind of boss that’s much less straightforward to navigate: the boss who doesn’t advocate for you.
When you discover you have a boss who isn’t advocating for you, the knee-jerk reaction is often to advocate for yourself and become your own PR machine. That’s often a mistake. Too much blatant self-promotion in the workplace can backfire and signal that you are narcissistic, egotistical, and ultimately unconcerned about the greater good. You ideally want others tooting your horn for you.
Assuming your performance is strong — and ideally, exceeds expectations — if your boss isn’t advocating for you, the issue likely lies with your boss. While it may not necessarily be your fault, it is your problem. You owe it to yourself to find a workable strategy to advance your career. Here are three steps you can take to navigate the advocacy gap.
Release your boss from your unmet expectations for advocacy. There are countless possible reasons why your boss isn’t advocating for you. Your boss might be insecure and see you as competition. Your boss may suffer from deep unconscious biases that lead to unfair evaluations of your performance and suitability for bigger roles. Whatever the reason may be for the advocacy gap, forcing, manipulating, or shaming someone into being your advocate won’t work. Let go of whatever anger or hurt you have developed because of your boss.
Find another advocate. There are other influencers who can give you the boost you need. The ideal sponsor is a powerful, high-ranking ally within your organization who will bring up your name with the right people at the right time so that you gain access to opportunity. Your sponsor is your champion in the organization — and sometimes even beyond it.
Sponsors typically choose their protégés. So, you’ll want to strategically increase your visibility to gain their interest instead of explicitly soliciting their advocacy. For one, produce consistently excellent work. Raise your hand to participate in organization-wide task forces and cross-functional teams. By adding value to important strategic projects for the organization, you’ll build your skillset, add to your experiences, and interact with new people. Make it clear that it’s in the organization’s best interest to retain and advance you.
Build your network inside and outside of the organization. Don’t underestimate the value of your peers and your direct reports in bringing your name up and speaking well of you. Being good to people and doing the right thing by people — especially those who may lack formal power in your organization — can cause them to want to advocate on your behalf. Finally, being an engaged citizen beyond your workplace in your industry or your community can help as well. You never know who is connected to whom and how. Sometimes, generating positive buzz beyond the workplace can prompt your organization to take stock of how great an asset you are.
We all need champions who are willing to advocate for us when we cannot speak for ourselves. And when your boss doesn’t do it, it can be downright challenging. But it doesn’t have to stop your progress and career advancement. You could be just one project, one committee, or one conversation away from getting noticed for who you are, what you do, and your potential to achieve even more.