The search for appreciation and approval from the boss is a quest that’s been around since the invention of the hierarchy. Everyone wants it; we all spend too much time seeking it; and oh, by the way, it can be an empty victory at best or soul-crushing at worst.
But true advocacy? A boss who is motivated, even compelled, to be your champion, to help you get the best exposure, recognition, and opportunities?
Well, that’s as good as it gets.
So how do you get some of that?
For starters, it’s not about being good at your job. It’s not even about being great at your job. It’s about being good enough to know what things to be great at.
And what are the right things to be great at? What compels a boss to fiercely advocate for an employee?
It turns out it’s a very specific set of characteristics–traits that represent how your boss most wants your greatness to show up. I know because in doing research for my book Find the Fire, I conducted a survey of 3,000 managers to find out what behaviors make bosses most want to advocate for their employees. The key word is want–in other words, the behaviors that get bosses involved head and heart to make good things happen for that employee. I distinguish this from the usual litany of things that merely make someone promotable.
So what are these advocacy-inducing attributes?
1. You’re the CEO of your projects.
Every boss appreciates someone who exhibits strong ownership of their work. But “being the CEO of your projects” warrants a special brand of admiration from the boss because it means you own your projects, every aspect of them, from vision to execution.
You leverage your boss for support and barrier-busting rather than waiting to be told what to do. This level of ownership also means you hold yourself accountable for results. And when someone demonstrated this level of accountability to me, as a boss it made me feel accountable for their career.
2. You inspire unswerving confidence that you’ve “got things covered.”
This one is related to the above, but worthy of its own mention. Bosses often just want to know that you know. I was like this as a manager. I tried never to micromanage, but on too many occasions I had bosses that micromanaged me and wanted me to know all the details. I didn’t want to know all the details. I just wanted to know that my subordinate knew the details.
If they did, it kept me from having to know everything at every level, which would have burned me out. So I really felt passionate about employees who just had it together. If I could count on them to have things covered, they could count on me to cover some serious ground in the breadth of advocacy I’d give them.
3. You consistently go above and beyond.
By far, the single thing I found most difficult to coach was initiative–the desire to not only be a self-starter but to go the extra mile when up and running.
I also found that if you had to coach someone on this, they could only ever be so good at it, which usually wasn’t at a level truly worthy of “emotional advocacy.” Compare this to the employee who did hit this mark–it was night and day. That employee couldn’t not go above and beyond. They couldn’t help but think in helpful ways outside the scope of their project, and had never uttered the words “not my square” in their life.
4. You uncover issues–and offer solutions.
No boss likes surprises. Most bosses like it when you uncover problems they didn’t know they had. Every boss likes when you present solutions along with the problems you’ve uncovered. It’s so easy to want to advocate for someone who makes your job easier. Which brings us to the next point.
5. You’re a time-creator for your boss, not a time-sucker.
It’s the rare soul who finds new ways to add value and take on more responsibility. That makes the boss’s job easier. Anyone can be a calendar-chomper.
6. You make an effort to make your boss look good.
Lest we forget about the good old ego: It’s an unspoken aspect of reciprocity. If you do things to make the boss look good, they can’t help but do right by you.
So do the right things right to get the advocacy you deserve. Then pay it forward.