This is part of my Thought Piece Series where I explore topics related to leadership and provide both answers and questions. My intention is to start meaningful conversations that help us move forward.
I’m starting with some personal information. Bear with me, this story is relevant, I promise you.
People close to me know that one of my kids has a rare disease and that as well as being a parent, I’m also her primary medical carer. We get great support from the health care system here, and I’m grateful for the good work that all the professionals do.
But the thing about rare diseases is that they are, well, rare. And while it seems obvious to say it, rare means that not many people have it (if there is 1 per million with an illness, then there are only 700 people on the entire planet who have it). So not much is known about them because
- there’s not enough data (too few patients)
- there’s less research done on them (are you going to spend 10 years researching an illness that affects about 700 people in the world, or for an illness that affects millions?)
Not only does the general public not know about the illness, but the specialists also do not know much, if anything, about the illness. There are kidney specialists in the world today who have never heard of my kid’s kidney disease. I, however, know sh*t loads about my kid’s condition. I’m so seriously invested in her health because of course, I am. I have spent hours researching medical papers and even more time doing field research: talking to many of those 700 people about what it’s like to live with this illness.
So what’s the point in telling you all this? I’ve had to develop the skills in advocacy, speaking up for my daughter and what she needs to live a healthy life, and for me as the parent and carer and my needs.
And I tell you, it’s hard. In general, doctors haven’t spent years studying to have a non-professional tell them how to do their job. So when you start to question things or make suggestions, it’s not always well received.
But again, I am the most invested in my kids well being. Yes, the doctors care, absolutely. But they have other people to care about too and have a different set of priorities. They are measuring on:
- is the patient still alive?
- is the patient staying out of the hospital?
- are they medically ok?
And as a parent, I’m measuring on:
- are they having a good life?
If I didn’t advocate for myself and my daughter, then we would be ok, but I know that we would also have problems, and sometimes with disastrous consequences.
So what does all this have to do with your performance appraisal and professional development plan?
Your manager cares about you and wants you to do well. But there is no one more invested in your development than you.
You’ve had your appraisal and created a development plan. Yes!
What often happens is that this is the moment that you might be sitting back, waiting to be offered the support to reach your goals. People have self-reported this to me, and I’ve had feedback from many managers and team leaders that their people are great, but seem to want “everything handed to them”.
This is where self-advocacy comes in. You are the one person that is most invested in your career, development, and well being.
You need to be advocating for yourself, a lot.
So here’s a place to start: asking for the support you need to reach your development goals. Is there a course you want to do? Make it happen. Do you want coaching? (I personally highly recommend it)
Ask for it.
Did you know that most companies have a coaching pool? Ask about it, and see if you can get some of your personal development budget allocated to that. Or already know a coach you would love to work with? Ask to be able to work with them instead.
Need a mentor? go find one. Think of someone you respect, the person you think “what would they do in this situation?” Then go ask them your questions. before either of you know it, they will have become your mentor.
This is in your hands. No one else will do it.
And this is not a message about “you can only rely on yourself so go it alone”.
This is a message about asking for help and keep going till you get what you need.
Self Advocacy. It’s the new black.