As a manager, you know that your team is your biggest asset. After all, you can’t succeed unless they do. Unfortunately, sometimes managers find themselves tongue-tied when it comes to one of the most critical aspects of team success — advocating for your employees. If another manager or leader talks badly about a staff member, do you stand up for them?
You know you should, but sometimes it’s hard to do. Here are some ways to strengthen your leadership skills and advocate for your employees.
One of the essential elements of advocating for your staff is putting them in a position to succeed. This is essentially a matter of assessing the human risk of your business. If you put staff in the wrong positions, you could lose money. Instead, pay close attention to each individual’s strengths and weaknesses and place them in the positions where they can be the most effective. For example, someone who loves people will be great in your retail store’s customer service or cashier role. Another person who’s excellent with details but is more of an introvert might be better managing the stockroom.
When you put employees in the best position, you’re advocating for them in an important, non-verbal way. You’re showing that you pay attention to their strengths and care about their careers.
When another manager criticizes your employee, it’s common to feel defensive. However, getting into an argument doesn’t help you or your team members. Instead, find a way to provide counterpoints.
One-on-One: If another leader is speaking to you privately and criticizes your employee, it’s easier to respond than in a public setting. First, take a breath and try to consider whether the statement has any merit. If so, find a way to make the statement gentler while pointing out the team member’s strengths.
If it’s not warranted, don’t get angry. Instead, say, “I work with XYZ, and I don’t find them to be that way at all. Instead,” and then tell a story illustrating their strengths in that area. Hopefully, the situation resolves without an argument. The key is to control your frustration and avoid triggering the other person’s defensiveness.
Public Criticism: Let’s say you’re in a meeting of department managers and someone speaks up to criticize how one of your team members acted in a certain situation. They may even draw broad conclusions about their character from that story.
In a public environment, advocacy is much more important — and much harder. There’s a tendency to allow a bully to go unchallenged or to agree out of a fear of not fitting in. Instead, start the same way you would one-on-one. Pause and consider if there’s merit to the statement. Let your initial emotions pass.
Then, speak up. Talk about what you like about that employee, and tell a story that illustrates their strength. You don’t have to contradict the criticizer directly; just let your story do the talking. You don’t have to go overboard, just make it clear that you know the employee and believe in them.
Managing conflict with excellent communication can be a significant challenge, especially if you find the criticizer intimidating. Working on getting your management skills to the next level can help you develop the communication skills you need to advocate for employees effectively.
If an employee isn’t present, does it matter whether you advocate for them or not?
First, not speaking up allows everyone in the room to believe that the original critique was correct. After all, you know your team members best, and if you don’t say otherwise, people will think you agree. Even if the person being discussed isn’t on your team, you can advocate for them and help others see their strong suits.
Secondly, these conversations get back to staff, whether you want them to or not. The team member will find out whether or not you stood up for them, and it will impact your relationship. Employees trust managers who advocate for them and are willing to do more.
On the other hand, if you don’t speak up, the employee will assume you don’t believe in them. As a result, they may become disengaged or think you’re lying when you tell them about their good performance.
Advocacy isn’t just about performance, either. Speaking up for your employees can mean advocating for a safer work environment, better wages and other important benefits that make workers’ lives better.
Do you speak up on behalf of your employees? If not, think about why. You might need some additional training in communication or managing conflict, or it might be as simple as keeping in mind how much it means to employees to have an advocate.
When you put your staff in positions to succeed, you’ve taken a significant first step. After that, it’s about bringing up a person’s strengths when they’re being criticized, so they don’t feel railroaded.
You know your staff best. Stand up for them!
Jori Hamilton is an experienced writer residing in the Northwestern U.S. She covers a wide range of subjects, including topics relating to business productivity, marketing strategies, and consumer retention. To learn more about Hamilton, you can follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.