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.
You might not even know that you have one. Most advocacy happens behind the scenes and in conversations to which you yourself are not privy. As the adage goes, 80% of what’s said about you is said when you’re not in the room. Non-advocating bosses can refuse to bring up your name favorably in the promotion conversation. They can withhold critical developmental feedback and stunt your growth. And they can even overtly undermine you and attempt to sabotage your long-term career prospects.
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. Before taking action to close this critical advocacy gap, you’ll want to understand why your boss isn’t advocating for you.
First, consider the possibility that you are actually the problem. In other words, you may not have a bad boss — you just might not have developed enough or demonstrated the skill necessary for the boss to advocate for your advancement yet. Observe the characteristics and accomplishments of the rising stars around you to see where you might improve. Proactively solicit the gift of your boss’s feedback and ask what it would take to earn their advocacy. And perhaps consider getting a coach to help you make the improvements necessary to earn your manager’s advocacy. Seeking and applying your boss’s advice could potentially move them to advocate on your behalf.