Take Control of Your Career Through Self-Advocacy

Capital One #5

Written by Dr. Jennifer Jackson, President of Capital One Canada

In a world where all of us are constantly being pulled in multiple directions, it’s hard to make time to focus on ourselves and our careers—but it’s critical to our personal and our professional success. That’s one of the reasons that I was excited to be at SXSW again this year, building connections and learning from leaders at all levels and across industries. I also contributed to the conversation in a new way, partnering with technology executive Lauren States on the topic of self-advocacy and the role we each play in achieving our own goals.

Being a good self-advocate is something many of us struggle with. We might feel—or be told—that we’re being pushy or not showing humility. We might not know how to articulate our goals or even who to tell. Speaking up for ourselves effectively is a skill like any other, and it requires confidence and practice.

The conversation that Lauren and I led at the Capital One House coincided with recent growth in my career. Professionally, I started a new role as President of Capital One Canada last year after leading several organizations within Capital One’s U.S. credit card business. While my skills, past results, and leadership all helped me get to this place, a key element to my success that anyone can adopt is (you guessed it): self-advocacy.

So how did I do it? A few years ago, I started planting the seeds with my managers and sponsors that I wanted to take on a role like the one I have now. I identified my goals, clearly articulated the value that I brought to the table and made sure that the leaders who could help make it happen knew my intention. Usually, the individuals who can be impacted the most aren’t in the room when new opportunities are being discussed. That’s why you have to figure out who will be a part of those conversations so that when they happen, the decision makers already know who you are and what you can contribute. Sometimes, even when your goals are defined, it can be intimidating or overwhelming to take that next step to achieve them. Advocating for yourself, early and often, will not only build your own confidence but help your mentors and sponsors reinforce that confidence when you need it most.

I have had smart, confident people—women and men—come to me for career advice. Sometimes when they shared their goals, they coupled it with an apologetic tone for having high ambitions. Why should anyone apologize about knowing their value and what they are capable of? Bias plays a role in that feeling, especially for women and people of color. The same traits that earn respect for others often garner negative reactions for us, and we sometimes adjust our behavior accordingly. I’ve coached women and men from all backgrounds to not only be ambitious but to own that ambition when they are willing to put in the hard work to achieve their goals. Humility and knowing your worth aren’t mutually exclusive. If you’re in an environment that doesn’t appreciate that, it might be time for you to find one that does.

When I talk about self-advocacy, I’m reminded that I still have work to do in my own professional development. Regardless of level, each of us has the chance every day to improve. Being a good self-advocate is an art, and it takes constant effort if you want to continue to grow. As leaders, it’s especially important for us to keep in mind. We aren’t just advocating for ourselves, we’re modeling that behavior for our teams.

While there are many factors that will contribute to your success, remember that your own voice is one of your most powerful assets. Use it to share your goals and help make them reality.

Photo and blog provided by Capital One

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