By Sara Haner, LSC Signature Class Member
I was stuck behind that car in traffic. You know the one. It’s a staple on Pacific Northwest roads, and it always seems to be a Subaru Outback. Its back bumper is plastered with stickers espousing the drivers’ religion, favorite breed of dog, and what college they’ve proudly graduated from. This particular car was touting Save the Whales! Coexist! UC Santa Cruz Alumni! (This might even be your car?
While I was behind this car, it dawned on me; this is advocacy. I’ve always thought of advocacy as a stiff, formal affair; something involving lobbying in Olympia or using a megaphone. But looking at the car in front of me, I realized anyone can be an advocate. By voicing support for a person, product, or idea, you’re advocating. When exploring advocacy through the lens of leadership, it’s clear that an effective leader understands advocacy, and knows exactly how and when to use it to usher in waves of change.
In Leadership Snohomish County this month, advocacy is the name of the game. Through the Positive Leadership curriculum, we explored advocacy, and how it’s a critical piece of effective leadership.
As with all leadership competencies, advocacy is a muscle you have to flex. The more you flex it, the easier it becomes, and the stronger your skill will be. The greater our ability to advocate, the greater our potential to change the world. It’s my firm belief that advocacy is a powerful change agent, more so than any other leadership tactic we’ll study this year.
I realize that there’s so much more to effective advocacy than just shouting from the rooftops (or from the Subaru Outback). According to Positive Leadership, effective leaders know that to advocate successfully, they have to:
Have clarity. They know what they are trying to accomplish. They have a goal, and can articulate it clearly to others.
Have conviction. They truly believe in what they’re advocating for. They don’t let doubts or fears get in the way of their cause.
Provide compelling rationale. They know how to present their case. They’re able to advocate thoughtfully and convincingly.
Have a specific focus. The attention they command is directed toward the most important things, not distractions.
Inspire other advocates. Their passion and intensity are contagious, and inspire others to take action.
Anticipate sources of resistance. They know that some won’t agree with them, and they don’t shy away from dialogue and discussion. They address resistance, rather than avoid it.
Be the right person for the message. If they are not, they gladly allow the right person to deliver the message. Their ego doesn’t get in the way of the right delivery of the message.
As a sidebar, something I’m really enjoying about the Positive Leadership curriculum this year is how each competency builds upon the last. Advocacy is no different. It requires authenticity and purpose to be successful.
Finally, just like the traffic jam I was stuck in this week, advocacy takes patience. Major culture changes can be a slow process that occurs in stages. We’ve all seen a new leader fall into the trap of thinking that they’ll be able to change a culture, fix a big problem, or create community impact overnight. They can be doing everything right, but without enough time, their efforts fall flat. Has this happened to you? (This has definitely happened to me!)
I encourage you to think about advocacy this month, and how you advocate. I’ll certainly be taking inventory of my own advocacy skill, and examining if I’m advocating with clarity, conviction and focus.
And, the next time I’m caught behind you in traffic, I’ll be sure to wave hello.