Blog post

Finding the Courage to Advocate for Yourself

14 October 2018

Since Gracious Leadership was released in late January, I have been extraordinarily humbled at the overwhelming response this book’s message is receiving. Within my blog posts and public presentations, I talk openly about the need for leaders of all types of organizations to be fully respectful as they seek to guide their teams to peak performance.

Respectful leadership “should” be for one and for all. What a novel concept that ought to be readily embraced!

However, in reality, this concept is not novel; it’s just not consistently applied and as such, has become grossly underrepresented as the obnoxious noise of toxic leadership strives to dilute the harmony of respect so desperately needed across our nation.

We must do better than this!

Certainly, there is no better time than now for advocates of fully respectful leadership to stand up and be counted.

Respect for one and for all does not pertain solely to showing respect to others. It also means that we must take a stand to respect ourselves. That means that we need to become our own best advocates.

Within Gracious Leadership, I included a chapter entitled “Gracious Leaders are Courageous” with a section of the chapter challenging readers to find the courage to advocate for themselves.

Women especially tend to be excellent in advocating on behalf of other people. However, when opportunities present for females to ask for stretch assignments or advancement, we often will opt to become more reserved… and we shrink into the comfort zones of our current roles. It’s no wonder that as a society, we still have not made adequate progress in having a representative number of women leaders in the C-Suites and in our Board Rooms.

Why are we so bashful about advocating for ourselves?

When I was a young executive, I decided to ask my CEO for a title change so the nomenclature of my role and the magnitude of the work would be better correlated. After giving my request some thought, the CEO said, “Yes.”

Was this title change important to a 28-year-old young executive? You better believe it was. And it became even more important 20 years later when I again garnered the courage to advocate for myself. I asked for the opportunity to lead a hospital without having had one single day of hospital operational experience. Thankfully, the answer I received was “Yes.” And this particular “Yes” allowed me the joy of experiencing the nine most gratifying years of my professional life to date.

As I make presentations and challenge my audiences to find the courage to advocate for themselves, I always share that if they are already trusted, proven performers, the probability of getting a “Yes” when asking for opportunities should be increased. However, I also caution participants to understand that just because they are already trusted, proven performers does not necessarily mean they will automatically be offered those coveted advancements. Sometimes you just have to ask!!

Since releasing Gracious Leadership, I have been delighted to hear from several individuals who, after reading the book or hearing this advice, have taken the risk to raise their hands and ask for advancements. For those who have shared with me their progress in finding the courage to advocate for themselves, they’re batting a thousand!

To maximize the respect you show to others, it’s critically important that you first show respect for yourself. So whether you are aspiring to secure a promotion or if you find yourself in the horrific position of being subjected to inappropriate sexual overtures, I encourage you to respect yourself without hesitation by garnering the courage to find your voice and let it be heard in your own way. In so doing, you can become your own best advocate.

Fully respectful leadership starts with YOU. Respect yourself first so you then can lead others like you’ve never led before.

I can’t wait to hear your stories about how you are finding the courage to advocate for yourself and elevating your voice to make your self-advocacy real! I encourage you to begin this journey today!


  • Noelle Gumm

    October 21, 2018 at 10:58 am

    This is insightful and provides valuable advice that is important to leaders in the context of their everyday work lives as well. In their zest to become and be perceived as gracious and “good” leaders, many executives (especially women) adhere to the philosophy that successes within their organization are credited to the team, while responsibility for failures is borne (either exclusively or primarily) by the leader. While that approach is preferable to one in which the leader claims all positive credit and blames others for failures, the result is often the minimization of the executive’s true accomplishments and value as a leader. I think it’s critical that leaders pursue consistent self-advocacy as described in the article throughout their tenure, as long as such advocacy is not at the expense of their team members or others. It’s in attempting to strike that balance where many women opt to take a deferential step back at their own expense. That is where I believe this advice could have the biggest (& most positive) career impact.

  • Janet Smtih Meeks

    October 21, 2018 at 1:43 pm

    Thank you, Noelle, for your insights. I couldn’t agree more. I believe that advocacy for the team and for one’s own growth, development and advancement should run in parallel tracks. I have long believed that the credit should be given to the team for successes that are realized. And, I am confident that some of the “new to me” opportunities I have had the joy of experiencing were professional dreams that materialized because I found the courage (and took the risk) to ask.

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