I know of nothing that will solidify a leader's standing with their team than for the team to see and know that she or he is actively advocating on their behalf. Advocacy is a term we don't hear much about anymore. I suspect that there is going to be a resurgence of interest in it as leaders seek to develop an understanding of just what being an advocate is.
I want to share two leadership stories. Both deal with advocacy. Both are different from each other. Yet both had the same powerful and lasting effect on the relationship between the leader and their team.
The crew and the leadership team were tense and anxious as they prepared for the upcoming shift. This was a high performing oil and gas completions team. Their reward was the chance to pioneer an entirely new and risky approach to completions. Everyone knew their role; everyone knew how important this was. The first day was a dud. Formation challenges notwithstanding, one particular operator on the crew seemed to be missing the mark early and often. When the client called a stop so that they could reassess what the issues were, the team leader brought that operator into the van and informed him he was being taken off that piece of equipment and being sent back to the shop for the day. The disappointment was evident and sent a pretty strong message to the rest of the crew.
In a spare moment alone, I asked the leader about this decision, and the response was actually quite surprising. He shared that it was clear to him that this person was not having a good day, and to leave him in place might lead to further issues that would be catastrophic for him. He took him off the crew that day, not because he was mad at him but because he did not want him getting into any further hot water.
The rest of the day, the crew sorted out the issues with the client, and they agreed upon a fresh start the next day. The following morning, to everyone's surprise, that crew member was back. It was noted by the client, and now the leader of that crew stepped up and assured the client that this was an excellent operator and yesterday was an anomaly, that today would be better. He shared that he had spoken with that individual, and he was confident things were back on track.
It must have worked because the day went flawlessly, and they performed a completion that they had never done before. Needless to say, the client was ecstatic, and so was the crew. They were clearly pleased with their success, but even more so (and this came out in their post-shift de-brief) they knew that their leader had "gone to bat" for one of them and had put his own reputation on the line as a result. They respected that he had held the operator accountable but were really pleased that he had also advocated for this person and the crew.
Sometimes the most powerful form of advocacy is to be a buffer for your team from the issues happening further up the line. This may seem at odds with maintaining open lines of communication and expectations, but sometimes the best way to advocate for your team is to protect them from unwarranted negativity.
In one instance, an area manager came onto a lease on a "surprise visit." This happened after almost two weeks of perfect daily completions. As such, the leaders for this crew assumed it was to congratulate them for the outstanding work. It should have been, but it wasn't. Instead of focusing on the success of the crew, the area manager spent time with the leaders' nitpicking over small and trivial issues. The leaders of those crews had a choice; to walk out and shovel the same manure or to bring a different report and shield them from undue negativity. They chose to advocate for their teams and simply exclude the negative aspects of the conversation with the area manager and only report those things that they felt were relevant to improving performance.
Did their teams know that there had been more to this discussion than what they were being told? Absolutely! Did they appreciate that their leaders had chosen not to "let the s**t continue to flow downhill" to them? You bet! Did these crews ramp up their performance for their leaders who had done this for them? Well - you know the answer to that.
These are only two instances of how a good leader is an advocate for their team. There are many others, including things like making sure they are providing for people's career aspirations or giving them opportunities to do special projects in areas of interest and strength. A staff confident that their leaders are advocating for them are 4x more likely to be engaged in their work. Are you practicing advocacy for your team? Hu Centered Leadership - Think About It!