3. The Advocacy Stand: power in service of love

The Advocacy Stand is not a technique...

It's a way of life.

And because it is, it's something you can call on and count on in every different kind of conversation, from the most challenging and difficult to the most intimate and tender.

It's my favorite leadership practice. Here's how I got to it. From the time I was a little I was taught to be a nice guy and I got so good at it that I turned myself into a super-nice guy.

My intentions were the best. I believed in cooperation. More than anything I wanted people to get along with each other.

But there was a problem with my strategy. The nice-guy version of cooperation doesn't hold up well against bullying. It's not powerful enough to oppose the forces behind oppression. It's got a submissive core to it that undermines even the most sincere intentions to make a difference. When I finally understood this, I started looking for a different way to think about cooperation.

I began studying people who seemed to have a special ability to take a stand for what they believed in. Over time, I began to use the phrase "Advocacy Stand" when I wanted to talk about...

Taking on the challenge of being powerful in the service of love.

As the name implies, the Advocacy Stand has two necessary parts. First...

I'm advocating for the way I want people to treat each other and the way I want us to live and work together in community. I want a more loving world, radically more loving.

Which to my mind means changing how power works so it stops hurting people and killing the planet.

And second...

I'm not just wishing for what I want, I'm taking a stand for it, body and soul. I'm putting my life here because this is what matters most to me.

I will not be backed off from this commitment. That's what it means to me to take a stand.

Sometimes I think of the Advocacy Stand as a spiritual practice because it goes as deep as the human soul. And while it's conceptually easy to understand, it can be quite challenging to practice on a daily basis given that we are human beings with all our human feelings and messiness and judgments and angers.

Sometimes I think of the Advocacy Stand as a moral stand. I don't mean "moral" in the conventional way, like a set of restrictive, rigid rules, or bitter people hammering away at each other with righteous judgments. To me, "moral" simply means what I said above: how I want people to treat each other individually and in community.

The Advocacy Stand is not nice-guy stuff. It's gutsy. If you live by it...

You're calling the question of love.

When you take your stand, you're issuing a challenge...

Will we be responsible to each other?

This is a sweet, nurturing challenge, but still a challenge.

The Advocacy Stand, when you make it your own, gives you such deep roots into yourself that it becomes very hard for anyone to throw you off balance. And if you do get thrown, you can quickly get your balance back.

This Stand, when you make it your own, becomes so deeply authentic that it gives you a powerful personal presence and this presence causes people to trust in you, often without knowing why. They just know it in their bones that they can put their trust in you.

 

Advocacy Negotiation
Taking the Advocacy Stand does not mean you're standing still like a statue. It's not a stand you take once and then you're done. It's a place you live from. You're proactive. You're playing offense.

From the place of the Stand, you have rigorous, invigorating conversations...

In the spirit of mutual advocacy and mutual championing.

Why am I using the word "negotiation" in this context? Because it's a word that to me means...

People working out together how to meet needs.

Negotiation as it's portrayed in the national business magazines or Hollywood movies is a matter of power plays and tricky finesses. A matter of forcing the other party to submit to your will. That's not at all what I mean when I use the word. Which is why I often throw the word "advocacy" in front of the work "negotiation" just to make it clear that I mean something special.

I spent three years studying negotiation with Jim Camp, a top national expert, a guy who can play hardball with the best of them when he wants to. Of all the hundreds of things I heard him say, there was one that was the clincher for me and turned me into an abiding fan of negotiation. He said...

Usually people think negotiation is something you do with opponents, but the person I negotiate the most with is my wife. Because that's where the most is at stake for me. And then my kids. Those are the relationships I most want to be at their best.

He really meant it. His family is a negotiating family. There was a night when Jim couldn't make it to class so he sent his 19-year-old son to fill in. He was by far the youngest person in the room but within minutes we had no doubts about him teaching us because he was a masterful negotiator, better than the rest of us put together. All those years of practice at home had given him a remarkable ability to bring people together.

What's the most common saying about relationships? They take work.

Okay, they do, but if that's how we sum them up that's kind of depressing. And maybe the reason why so many relationships take so much work is that we let them coast till they're in trouble and then they take repair work, which is the hard kind of work.

But if we are practicing Advocacy Negotiation with our loved ones every day, then, yes, that's work, but it's also a pleasure because it works. It prevents trouble. And...

Why not do the joyful work instead of the painful kind?

Why don't I use the term "communication" instead of "negotiation"? I remember going to a workshop called, "Improving Your Communication." It started with an inspirational welcome, then immediately devolved into a recitation of shoulds, like...

You should listen better.

Okay, a lot of people would be better off it they did listen better because we humans are not naturally the greatest listeners. But when it comes to nonprofit leaders, what I've seen more often than not, at least with the ones I work with, is that they...

Listen too well.

Which means they pay such big attention to the other person's wishes and moods and demands that...

They don't pay nearly enough attention to what they need themselves.

And to what their team needs and what their mission needs.

Nonprofit leaders are so focused on responding to any and all distress, that we might respond to it even if the distressed person is using their distress as a manipulation instead of taking responsibility for themselves and their own actions. We might give in even if that person is insisting on something that will hurt the team and the mission.

So while "communication" is a perfectly good and useful and honorable word, I prefer to talk about negotiating instead because...

Negotiation is smart, supercharged communication that does real work in service of meeting real needs.

It means...

Taking a stand for mutual advocacy.

So it's not selfish. It's relational. It's a powerful force for creating the best kind of relationships.

And community.

And here's where advocacy negotiation transcends conventional negotiation. You know the phrase win-win. It's commonly the goal for negotiated agreements. It's actually not a synonym for compromise. We want to try to make sure that everyone's core needs are met if possible.

But for those of us dedicated to social change and social justice work, there's more. We are focusing on a much bigger picture than specific deal-making encounters where goals are met or not for the time being.

For us...

Advocacy negotiating is essential to community building.

I believe we can't do without it. Making win-win deals is fine. But it's not sufficient for changing the world. Only mastering the ability to create teams, networks, and movements which live by mutual advocacy and mutual championing has any chance of bringing about the kind of changes we're working for.

 

The blessing of match language
If you asked me for a list of my favorite words, "match" would easily be in the top ten because there have been so many times when I've been deeply grateful for it. It gives me a way to take a stand and negotiate in the spirit of advocacy...

Without any whiff of judgment in the air.

And that matters because judgment, with its righteous undertones backs people into corners, traps them, and turns the conversation mean, killing the relationship.

Let's look at match language in a tough situation. Say you have to fire someone, but you've been waiting too long to get your nerve up and by now he's done so many aggravating things that you're just mad and you want to jump in and start off by telling him that...

He's bad or wrong.

Or maybe, like so many nonprofit leaders, you feel bad about firing someone even though she richly deserves it. So to protect yourself, you indulge in a bit of righteousness and you...

Make her feel as if she's bad or wrong.

It's so easy to slip into judgmental justifications, but the problem is that...

Judgment is an attack.

And it's felt as that.

So it's pretty much guaranteed to hurt feelings, incite counterattack, maybe trigger in the person memories of all the other experiences she's had of put downs and criticism. Which doesn't do anyone any good.

Sometimes a leader decides not to use judgmental language, but then feels stuck. Like if you don't use judgments to set limits does that mean you can't set limits at all? Is that the choice?

And of course it's not because...

Match language gives you a secure place to take the stand you need to take so you can set the limits you need to set.

It can't work magic and it doesn't come with any guarantees, but it does give you your best chance to keep a difficult conversation calm. And most importantly, it allows you to stay true to your values.

It seems to me that match language is an essential part of our work for social change. It allows us to sweep aside the social control strategies of judgment, blame, attack, demonizing, and shame which are so very common in our society, and allows us instead to practice a compassionate way of relating to each other even when we're dealing with serious differences or separations.

So match language is useful for tough situations, but...

It can also show up in sweet moments.

Say someone tells me, "You're great!" Well, that's always nice to hear, but it doesn't really touch me very deeply, because praise is actually an evaluation and therefore a judgment.

But suppose she tells me, "We're such a match for each other. I'm so happy we're working together."

Personally I'd much rather hear that second comment. And the reason? Because it's relational. I feel caring and connection in it.

 

Calling the question of the match
Now, when you use match language that doesn't mean you're backing off from things that need to be said or decisions that need to be made. It means that you're taking a stand, really taking it—for the mission, for how you want people to treat each other, for the values the organization exists to promote.

Whenever we slip into judgment and a fight starts, we're letting the other person off the hook. We're allowing them to be irresponsible. We're letting them respond to us with distress, attack, or tantrums, instead of clear, direct, respectful negotiation.

So when we use match language, we're actually calling the question. The question of responsibility...

The question of responsibility to relationship.

In this way, a match-based conversation is much more challenging than a judgment-inciting conversation. A match conversation holds everyone to a higher standard of behavior and engagement. And it's this greater challenge that leads us to the greater rewards.

On next three staff pages I have lots of examples of match-based communication, but I want to look at one example here to show that using match language does not mean being submissive. Rather it's a way to calmly and confidently take your stand, again and again, as long as you need to.

I want to show how you can use match language to keep a conversation from exploding into a bitter free-for-all and instead keep it grounded in real needs.

Benjy:  What's this meeting about?

Tammy:  You've been here two months and four of the staff have told me you've said hurtful things to them, put them down, said disparaging things about their families or their background, and each of them told me this has happened multiple times. I've actually got a list here of 18 incidents.

And do you remember that I talked with you about this three weeks ago and gave you a very serious warning?

Benjy:  So? I'm meeting my job objectives. That's all you get to concern yourself with.

Tammy:  That might have been true in other organizations you worked for but not here. During your interview we took twenty minutes to talk with you about our staff culture and how serious we are about it. And if you look back at your list of job duties you'll see that #1 on the list is the duty to contribute to the well-being of the team and the morale of the team. And that's duty #1 for each staff person here.

Benjy:  Well, I do that in my own way.

Tammy:  Okay, but it's not our way. It's not working for us.

Benjy:  So?

Tammy:  So you can't be here anymore.

Benjy:  Are you saying I'm a bad person? Now you're putting me down.

Tammy:  Not at all. I haven't said that and you won't hear me say it because I don't believe it. I've seen how you put your heart into the work. And in fact, when it comes to how you are out in the community, you're a remarkably good match for outreach work.

Benjy:  Well, that's because I love that stuff.

Tammy:  It shows. It's a talent I think you can count on for your future. But I've never seen this kind of split before. You're such a match out in the community and so very much not a match back here in the office. In the office you're operating by a different set of values than we are.

Benjy:  Are you saying my values are screwed up?

Tammy:  I'm not evaluating your values. Your values are up to you. They're your responsibility.

Benjy:  Damn straight they are. I get to decide how I want to behave.

Tammy:  Yes, that's it exactly. You do get to decide. And I don't want to try to turn you into someone you're not and I don't want to try to make you behave in accord with our values if you don't believe in them. That wouldn't be fun for you or me. And there's no way I could make you change if you didn't want to change, is there?

Benjy:  Not on your life.

Tammy:  So there we are. You're committed to doing things your way and we're committed to doing things our way. And since this is our organization and since I'm the executive director here and charged with making the final decisions, I can tell you my decision is that your values and our values are such a mismatch that you can't continue to work here.

Benjy:  Well, now you're taking all the power. How come I don't get to be part of the decision?

Tammy:  You actually made the decision.

Benjy:  Huh? Okay, then I want to stay. That's my decision.

Tammy:  No, you've made the decision to go. Again and again. At least 18 times.

Benjy:  How in the hell?

Tammy:  With your behavior. Am I responsible for you or are you responsible for you?

Benjy:  I'm responsible for me. No one runs my life but me.

Tammy:  Bravo. So you've made 18 decisions to engage in relational aggression. No one made you do that stuff. That was your choice. You're in charge of yourself.

Benjy:  I sure am.

Tammy:  And you were told in your interview that we have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to relational aggression. And when I gave you your job description, I walked you through each item one by one and the first item on the list was the one about contributing to the well-being of the team. So today I'm just letting you know the consequences of the decisions you've been making.

Benjy:  Well, I don't like that.

Tammy:  How do you want things to work?

Benjy:  I want to do what I want to do, that's my idea of being responsible for myself.

Tammy:  I hear you. I get that. But our idea of responsibility includes being responsible to each other. I understand that's not your way of looking at it. You're idea is very different. It's the opposite of ours. So can you see why we're not a match for each other?

Benjy:  Well...

Tammy:  See, it's not just that you're not a match for us. We're not a match for you. I mean, really, are we? Are we a match for you? Are we really the kind of people you want to work with?

Benjy:  Hell no you're not. You've got too many rules.

Tammy:  Well, then...

Benjy:  Well, I don't like this.

Tammy:  How about going and finding a place where you do like the people and where they don't have the same rules we have and work there and be happy.

Benjy:  Yeh, you got that right. I'm not happy here.

Tammy:  You look sad all of a sudden.

Benjy:  I was just thinking I haven't ever been happy on any job.

Tammy:  Wow, now that makes me sad. Listen, here's what's in my heart to say to you. There are people who could help you with that. Counselors, coaches. What about trying a few sessions with someone like that to see if it helps?

Benjy:  That's your values.

Tammy:  Yes, that's true.

Benjy:  And it won't happen, because I fly solo. Period.

Tammy:  Okay, I hear you. Now let's go get your termination paycheck. And I wish you the best. I really do.

So how does this conversation demonstrate advocacy?

1.  By protecting her staff Tammy is being their advocate.

2.  By protecting her organization and its work she's being an advocate for the mission.

3.  By protecting herself and her leadership values, she's advocating for herself.

4.  And finally, she's advocating for Benjy, too, even if he doesn't see that. Because if she let him stay, what would happen? The conflict between him and the other staff would intensify. There'd be more resentment, arguments, battles, hate, and ugliness.

Would you wish that for anyone? Benjy's obviously a guy who has some things to learn; he's still got some growing up to do. But it won't help him open up if he's embattled.

And this firing might wake him up. Probably not. But it just might. And so in that sense the firing is actually an act of advocacy as strange as that may sound.

Benjy tried dragging Tammy into a judgmental battle, but she stood strong, again and again, and kept the conversation on the high road of advocacy, which is a very compassionate thing to do.

 

Beyond assertiveness to advocacy
Do you remember the basic paradigm of assertiveness training? It goes like this...

Passive—Assertive—Aggressive

If you're passive you get walked over. If you're aggressive, you're walking over other people. And both of those are a rotten way to live, especially if you're someone who cares about having quality relationships.

Assertiveness is what makes it possible for relationships to be at their best.

Assertiveness starts with...

Taking a stand for yourself.

You don't let anyone push you around and you don't push anyone else around. You have too much respect for yourself to allow either one of those things to happen.

I learned a lot from assertiveness training and recommend it and believe we need a whole lot more of it in the nonprofit sector.

But then I want to add something to it. And that's advocacy training. Because I think advocacy is...

The social change version of assertiveness.

It's assertiveness-plus.

Advocacy starts with taking a stand for yourself. That for sure. But it also means...

You're taking a stand for the bigger picture. For your team, for your organization, for your community, for humanity as a whole. So we can have a much better future. So we can even have a future at all.

Advocacy means...

We understand that if our community is happier, we're happier. If our community is safer, we're safer. And if our community is stronger, we're stronger.

Advocacy means...

We're constantly seeing ourselves as part of a system of relationships and a network of needs.

So for example, when we're talking with an individual staff person, it may look like a one-to-one conversation, but it's not. It's...

One-to-everyone.

We're holding the needs of this individual and our team and our mission and our community and ourselves in our hearts all at the same time. Talk about a challenge! But that's what it means to live a social change life—living inside the bigger picture.

As your staff follow in your footsteps and learn to live inside the big picture, too, they will not only create a happier workplace, but will become coalition-ready and movement-ready...

They'll develop the ability to bring very different people to common ground.

They'll become skilled at meeting diverse needs in a mutually-beneficial way.

They'll develop a deep understanding of what it takes to create a community of mission-dedicated souls who sincerely care about each other.

Then because of what they learn inside their own organization, they'll be able to step confidently outside and bring their experience and their leadership to what we hope will become an ever-expanding circle of people committed to compassionate change.

And what would it mean to you to be able to give your staff such gifts?

 

Taking a stand for your noes by advocating for your yeses
If you can't say no, you can't take a stand, so you'll always be at the mercy of others, and not always well-meaning others. And if that's the case how can you sustain yourself and your team?

But many nonprofit leaders find it hard to set the limits that they need to set. And why is that?

Maybe because...

We're such helpers that our first instinct and driving desire when someone asks us for help is to automatically say yes. We focus in on the need this person is expressing right now in the moment and then the context of all our other commitments fades into the background. All we see is that what we're saying yes to is in and of itself a good thing, not what the consequences of that yes will be to the bigger picture of our work.

And our mainstream culture expects nonprofit leaders to be nice guys. We're supposed to be role models of helpfulness. We're supposed to be yes people. For a nonprofit person to say no is practically blasphemous. A violation of some unwritten mandate.

And personal issues can get mixed up in this, too. For example, some of us have grown up thinking that we have to do helpful deeds, lots of them, that we have to keep pleasing people in order to earn love. But of course love that is earned is not love and can't ever satisfy us.

But the fact is....

If we can't set boundaries, we can't protect ourselves and our work.

And...

If we can't say no, we can't sustain ourselves and our work.

The truth is that...

If we want to say a big yes to our mission, we're going to have to say a big no to many other things.

We'll have to say a bunch of noes for every yes we say, because there are so many people who want so many things from us and there are so many distractions tugging at us.

And...

Quite a few of the noes we will say will not be easy ones.

That's because so many of the things we have to say no to are good things if we take them on their own terms. They might be things we wish we could do. They might be things we'd really love to do. But we just don't have the time and energy to do everything. And...

We're committed to giving our very best to our mission.

So we take a stand for it. Which is an example of mission discipline. And as we do this, people get to see just how serious we are about our work. They learn they can always count on us to make the decision to stand by our mission. And it gives us shine as leaders to demonstrate this kind of steadfastness.

By contrast, what happens if we say yes to everything? That's like saying yes to nothing, because then we can't do anything well. We'd be too scattered and stretched too thin.

Saying yes to everything is what leads us down the path of mission drift, and even worse, down the path of mission neglect. Which means sacrificing the mission in order to be a nice guy in the face of someone else's request or demand.

The art of saying no is an essential practice to master if you want to be a sustainable leader. And because it can be such a challenging practice, especially for those of us in the nonprofit sector, let me give you a tip that I find helpful...

Say your noes with your yeses.

What does this mean? It's easier to illustrate than to explain. Here are Tony and Nate, both EDs of their respective organizations...

Nate:  Hey, Tony, we're going to do our first big national conference this fall in October, and it's going to be something radically different. No breakouts with the same old talking heads. Every session is going be a three-hour, rock-and-roll workout and will be run by a skilled facilitator who's also a seasoned organizer and there will be an actionable game plan produced by the end. We're calling this a "strategic action convocation."

Tony:  I like the sound of that a lot. I think that's just what our field needs. I think all our conferences ought to be action oriented.

Nate:  Great! So next Wednesday is our first planning meeting. And as our co-sponsor I want you to help me plan the agenda and make a master time line for producing the convocation.

Tony:  Whoops.

Nate;  What do you mean whoops? Is Wednesday a bad day for you?

Tony:  No. It's the part about being your co-sponsor.

Nate:  Well, listen, we really need you on this. You guys have more expertise than we do in running national conferences. I see you as key to the success of this endeavor.

Tony:  The truth is that I really like your idea and on a personal level I'd really enjoy working with you on this, but I'm going to tell you no. We aren't going to co-sponsor the conference.

We'll be glad to endorse it. We'll show up for it. I've got three staff who are just the kind of facilitator-organizers you're talking about, but co-sponsorship is out of the question.

Nate:  But if you support it, why won't you be our partner?

Tony:  Because we don't have the bandwith. Last year we had a breakthrough. We found a new way to get through to the gangs we work with. We've facilitated truces and the truces are holding strong. Violence is way down. There have been no deaths for the past six months. And last month we got one small gang to reorganize to serve the community and become politically active. Amazing.

You can imagine how hard this work is and how tricky and what kind of constant and intense attention it takes. I can tell you, I'm so proud of my staff and I'm not going to ask one single thing more of them than what they're already doing.

Would you want us to mess with this kind of success?

Nate:  No, of course not. But this conference is aligned with your mission. That's so obvious to me.

Tony:  It is aligned, and I appreciate how you keep pushing me, because what I'm hearing is how important this conference is to you. But I'm so very clear that my answer is absolutely no.

Nate:  You sound almost happy to tell me no.

Tony:  Not almost happy, I'm totally happy. There were years when I couldn't say no and I got my team into all kinds of distracting projects I should never have gotten them into. It feels to good to me now to be able to say no so easily and to know that I'm taking care of my team. That feels really good.

It's not that I want to disappoint you. I do support your plan. I wish we had the time to join you as co-sponsor. But we don't.

Nate:  There's nothing more I can say to convince you?

Tony:  There's really not. But let me ask you this. What's it like to hear me tell you no, and to know it's final?

Nate:  I really don't like it.

Tony:  Because....

Nate:  Because it puts me in a quandry.

Tony:  Which is?

Nate:  I don't know how we're going to pull off this conference. It's more ambitious than anything we've done before.

Tony:  How much does it matter to you on a scale of 1-10?

Nate:  It's a 10+. Nothing matters more this year. It could put us on the national map in our field.

Tony:  I agree. I think it could do that. And I think you deserve to be in a much stronger leadership position nationally. You've got so many good program ideas.

Nate:  So why won't you help?

Tony:  Let's not go back down that street because it's a dead end. Let me ask you instead what's the real reason you need help? What would it take for your organization to pull this off on your own?

Nate:  Oh, well, we're doing too many things.

Tony:  I know what that's like.

Nate:  See, the truth is I'm not like you. I don't say no. It's embarrassing to have to admit that.

Tony:  I get it. But what if you did say no to all the things you'd really like to say no to?

Nate:  That's a hell of a question. When you put it like that, it's suddenly clear to me that this conference is not beyond us if we could dedicate ourselves to it.

Tony:  So what would that take?

Nate:  Some serious noes.

Tony:  What's an example of one no you'd like to say?

Nate:  Oh, Jonathan comes to mind first.

Tony:  Oh, yeh, he's really hard to say no to. He's so good at talking people into stuff.

Nate:  Is he ever!

Tony:  So what would you tell him if you could tell him exactly what you need to tell him?

Nate:  I'd call him up and say, let's see, I'd say....

We've got an opportunity that we can't pass up. It's the key to our future, so it's something we're going to pursue full steam ahead.

But that means I'm going to have to cancel out of a commitment I made to you. I know I agreed to loan you two of my staff through June, but I'm going to be pulling them back into our organization at the end of this week.

Tony:  How strongly do you feel about this?

Nate:  Very strongly. I wish I had never made that agreement. It's never been good for us. And I half knew it at the time that I was doing the wrong thing.

Tony:  So what happens if Jonathan protests?

Nate:  Oh he'll protest. So then I'll say...what? How do I get him to understand? How do I get him to agree?

Tony:  What if that's not your goal?

Nate:  Oh, I see. Like if my goal is just to tell him no.

Tony:  Yes, you're telling him no and calling the question as you do it. You tell him why you need to say no, and you say it, and you let him know it's final, and then...

Nate:  I get to see what he does.

Tony:  Exactly! You get to see what he's made of. Can he get it that you need to tell him no for the sake of your mission? Does he get it that you're not being capricious? Does he understand? Or does he try to finesse you or bully you?

Nate:  Right. So I don't need to try to appease him or control him in any way. I'm just giving him the news. And then he gets to be Jonathan.

Tony:  That's right. There are times when you're willing to talk an issue through and times when your decision...

Nate:  Is set. Like you with your decision. And me, too. My decision is set.

Tony:  So then do you need his permission to tell him no?

Nate:  No, I don't.

Tony:  Again, how clear are you about needing to do this conference?

Nate:  Absolutely clear. So that's the place I can stand if he pushes back on me. I can say no, period. And take my stand right there on that period.

Tony:  And if he keeps pushing what would be something you might say to him that would be over the edge for you?

Nate:  Okay, here's a surprise. What I really want to do is be transparent with him not defensive. I'd like to say...

Jonathan, I know you can talk anyone into anything. You talked me into this agreement against my better judgment. And that's my fault for letting you do that.

And it's really hard for me to tell you no now. But notice that I'm doing it. And notice that my no is final. Which is a sign of just how strongly I feel about this.

And this is just the beginning. I'm now dedicated to saying no whenever I need to say it and I'm just going to keep getting better and better at it.

So my request for you is that you support me in telling you no because it's something I need to do for the sake of my mission. I'd really appreciate that. But no matter, what our agreement is now cancelled. Period.

Tony:  How's that feel?

Nate:  It takes my breath away. I really like it.

Tony:  Me, too. You've got such strength when you take your stand. Authentic, vulnerable strength.

Nate:  And I really want to do this. No, I know I'm going to do it. I'm so sure about this, it feels like a stroke of lightning. And you know what I just realized?

Tony:  What?

Nate:  This is really simple. Really gutsy, but once I take my stand, really simple.

Tony:  So then about me being the co-sponsor of your conference...

Nate:  You keep your mitts off my conference!

Tony:  Works for me!

Nate:  Tony, thanks for taking the time to talk this through with me.

Tony:  You're welcome. Saying no has been a very hard lesson for me to learn. I get what a challenge it can be.

Nate:  I imagine I'm going to struggle with it, but I am going to learn it. And I'm sorry for the pass along.

Tony:  Pass along?

Nate:  Because I wasn't saying my no to Jonathan, I felt pressure to pressure you to rescue me.

Tony:  I see.

Nate:  You gave me the gift of a really clear no. Now I'm going to turn around and give that same gift to Jonathan.

Tony:  Cool. Hey, one more question. How has it affected our relationship for me to tell you no?

Nate:  Well, this is interesting, I feel like it's made our relationship stronger.

Tony:  Me, too.

Nate:  I don't know how Jonathan will react, but there's always the possibility that this kind of connection could happen with him, too.

Tony:  You're going to find out.

Nate:  Yes, I am.

 

Advocacy adventures
As I said above, the Advocacy Stand is a way of life, so you can count on it in every different kind of conversation or relationship.

The Advocacy Stand is not a generic prescription. As you make it your own, it takes on your personality, desires, playfulness, and depth. And when you engage another person from your Stand, you've got a unique kind of advocacy chemistry going on between the two of you. Or between your group and another group.

While many of the personnel books give you rules and restrictions the Advocacy Stand gives you possibilities. It keeps your working relationships from going stale and stalling out. It's keeps them alive with adventure.

 

Advocacy asking
Elsewhere on this site I have a two-part page about being the donor's advocate when you ask her for money. This means you don't pressure your donor. You don't beg or guilt trip or run finesses to force a yes.

Instead you challenge your donor. Does that sound unconventional? It is. You challenge him to think deeply about what matters to him and the kind of world he would like to see.

And then you challenge him to take a stand for himself and put his money where his heart is.

So you're asking big and you're asking deep, but because you're completely on your donor's side, because you just want him to be true to himself, he likes how you ask. And may well invite you back again later to ask for more.

 

Sharing power
The new generation of leaders has become increasingly interested in new leadership structures based on sharing power, like Co-Executive Directors.

Of course there are a lot of skeptics. And there are lots of failed experiments that give fuel to the skeptics. But shared power can absolutely work. Of course you can't just throw any two random people together and tell them to share power.

What you need are two people who...

Begin with a basic foundation of goodwill toward each other, and

Get the Advocacy Stand in their bones, and then

Continue to develop their mastery of advocacy negotiating.

That's what it takes to be a success.

I'm living proof that a partnership of shared power can work. My friend Kate and I were co-founders of our organization, Child Assault Prevention. And for ten years we were in leadership together. We didn't think of it as shared power, we were just doing the work together.

At the beginning we made a conscious decision that we would put our working relationship first. That we would not let anything set us against each other for any reason.

I remember in the first year, some people came to me and said, "Don't tell Kate this, but..." And I'd stop them right there and say, "I tell Kate everything. In fact, I will tell her you came to me and told me, 'Don't tell Kate this but...'"

That happened five times, then never again for the rest of our ten years. Word got around. It got so Kate'n'Rich was like a single name.

Both of us have said many times that our work was so big and so challenging that were was no way either of us could have gotten through those years without the other.

So I'm a big fan of partnership. First of all because you're never "lonely at the top." You've always got great company. Which makes leading a whole lot more fun.

And then there are other benefits. For example, lots of EDs are under too much pressure and have to move too fast so it's easy for them to make a mistake, and maybe a serious one, one that will embarrass them for a long time to come, just because they don't have the time to stop and think.

But when you have a partner in leadership, you have to take that time. It's a routine part of your discipline. And it saves you.

If you want to do power sharing, I recommend the Advocacy Stand to you because I believe it's your best chance for success.

 

Advocacy Apology
We're human, so we're going to screw up sometimes. And then what do we do? Apologize of course to anyone we've disappointed or hurt or offended.

But there are apologies and apologies.

And personally, I find it upsetting when someone apologizes to me if she...

Condemns herself.

Shreds herself.

Beats her self up so bad she leaves me standing there with a bloody pulp of herself.

That's not what I want, that "abject apology" stuff. It's really, really not what I want.

What if we all agreed to...

Take the self-attack out of our apologies and put self-advocacy in.

Here's one example of what that might look like...

Amy:  I screwed up so bad this morning.

Rich:  What happened?

Amy:  Remember Andres who I've talked about several times? He's a top leader in my field. He's written the books he gives the keynotes, he's a regular on Democracy Now!. And was on The Today Show a month ago. He's an academic, but political and down to earth. I was finally able to arrange a call with him for this morning.

Rich:  Congrats!

Amy:  Yeh, congrats, except that I said three big stupid things. Like I was a green rookie instead of an experienced leader. I can't imagine what he thinks of me now, but it can't be good. We were only halfway through our time when he just seemed to fade away.

I'm so embarrassed but I can't let it go. He's too important to me. I need to do something about this. Should I e-mail him and throw myself on his mercy?

Rich:  Is that the kind of relationship you want with him? Or anyone?

Amy:  No way. But I feel like I have to apologize. Put myself down and see if he picks me up.

Rich:  Want to try playing with a different kind of possibility? Something that might be more fun?

Amy:  God, yes!

Rich:  Okay, first think about your best moments with the Advocacy Stand—with your staff, with your funders, at home....

Amy:  Okay, I'm seeing snapshots of different conversations, I'm hearing my voice when I was at my best.

Rich:  Let yourself sink into those times and catch that mood again.

Amy:  Here's me taking a big breath. Going after that mood. Ugh, not so easy. Okay, I'm getting there.

Rich:  And now I'm Andres and in this moment my heart is open, wide open and welcoming. So just tell me the truth. About what happened and what you want.

Amy:  Andres, I want to apologize to you for our call this morning and explain what went wrong. I was up half the night with my daughter who's sick with a cold. So I was not at my best, but that wasn't really the problem. The problem is that I'm a little starstruck by you and was feeling a bit intimidated. Which is on me, not on you.

I was so off balance that I said those three big dumb things about the politics of our field. I want you to know that I know better than that, and I'm sorry you had to listen to those inanities.

And I want you to know this is not how I usually am. I'm known for being bright and quick and thoughtful. A good strategist. A with-it kind of gal.

I so wish I had been on my game this morning and talked with you like I talk with other VIPs.

And what worries me most is that I think you would like our work. A lot. I've even been thinking you might want us to keep in touch, sending you data on our successes since this is your field of expertise. It seems right that you should know about our progress and any breakthroughs. Be one of the first to hear our news. Maybe even find research opportunities here.

I think it's possible that we might have a good connection and I don't want us to miss out on it just because I blew it this morning.

So what I'd like to ask for is another chance to talk with you. And I promise you I will make sure to be at the top of my game. Feel free to tell me no if that doesn't work for you. But I wanted you to know that I'd really like to try again.

And whatever your decision, please know that everyone here is a fan and we're all wishing you the best.

Signed, Amy

Rich:  Okay, take a breath, and what do you notice about your apology?

Amy:  It's different than anything I've ever done before. I don't have to do apologies very often, thank God.

Rich:  What's different? For example, if you were an objective observer and you overheard this, what would you think about the apologizer?

Amy:  Good things. She's no wimp. She's taking a stand for herself right in the middle of the apology. How cool is that?

Rich:  What else is she taking a stand for?

Amy:  Oh, yes, the relationship. She's being bigger than the snafu. She blew the conversation this morning, but this afternoon she's stepped into leading the conversation. Instead of giving up on the relationship and retreating into oblivion, she's fighting to give the relationship a chance.

Rich:  And?

Amy:  I see her advocating for herself. A very cheeky thing to do, but I like it. She gave herself a rave review. She slipped it in there quietly without fanfare. But she did not hesitate to speak up for herself. She didn't let her screw-up take away anything from her self-esteem.

Rich:  In fact, could we say this apology gave her a chance to...

Amy:  Show herself off! Yes. Where most people wreck themselves with an apology, she's showing herself to be a force to reckon with.

Rich:  And what do you think Andres would be thinking about her as he read this?

Amy:  Unless he's an idiot, he's got to be impressed and intrigued and thinking maybe he got off the call too fast because it looks like there's a lot more to this woman than he saw on the call. And he's not an idiot.

Rich:  So how much do you need to revise this e-mail before you send it?

Amy:  Hmmm, you know, this gives me a shiver, but I want to send it as is. Were you taking notes?

Rich:  Yes, indeed, word for word.

Amy:  Thank you.

Rich:  One more question. What were the screw ups in the blown call this morning trying to tell you?

Amy:  Oh, hell, I don't want to think about that, except that's such an interesting question. What if, hmmmm, what if those screw ups were a red flag. Like a warning trying to get my attention.

Rich:  If so, what was the warning saying to you?

Amy:  Sweetie, you're so off balance. This is not you. I'm not going to let you slip through this whole conversation as if this is who you are. You're so much more than this. Instead of letting you go on and on as if nothing's wrong, I'd rather blow up the conversation and make a mess and leave you embarrassed.

Rich:  So...

Amy:  That warning part of me was trying to get me back on track. I see that I was starstruck by Andres and reverted back to my old habit of trying too hard to impress somebody, which always pushes people away instead of drawing them in closer.

That warning part of me was desperate to get me to pay attention and play the kind of game I play when I'm at my best which nowadays is thankfully almost all the time. That warning part was actually taking a stand and advocating for me.

You know what? Even if Andres says no to another conversation for right now, I'm deciding in this moment to start an Andres Campaign. I'm going to win him over. I know I can do this. There's no way he's going to get away from me. What do you think?

Rich:  I believe you! That poor guy doesn't have a chance.

 

Advocacy with amateur bullies
First off, I want to make a distinction between professional bullies and amateur bullies.

A professional bully doesn't just mess with you, he wants to destroy you, your reputation, your standing in the community, your future, your self-esteem, your happiness. He wants to take you down. We see plenty examples of this on our national political scene which so often looks like a no-holds-barred destruction derby.

To take on a professional bully takes a special set of skills and you have to organize allies to help you take your stand against him. It's not something you should ever try to do solo or without a serious game plan.

So I want to be clear that in the next few paragraphs I'm only talking about dealing with amateur bullies. And fortunately in the nonprofit sector most, not all, but most of our bullies are of the garden variety. Which means that with a concerted effort you can stop them.

Amateur bullies can only have power over you...

If you step into their ballpark and play their game on their terms.

Isn't that encouraging? If you just avoid doing that one thing, you'll have the upper hand. And that's where the Advocacy Stand comes in handy. If you stick with your Stand, no amateur bully can run you.

And if you lead with your advocacy—for a better way of people treating each other than resorting to bully with its attacks and counter attacks—you'll surprise the bully and throw him off balance.

Because if you refuse to be the bully's victim...

He won't know what to do with you.

And...

If a bully doesn't have a victim, he won't know what to do with himself.

Except maybe run off and find someone else who is willing to be his victim.

When you're dealing with a bully...

Please don't ever take half a stand.

Make it total. Make it 100%. You want to get the message across to him that your stand is your stand and you will not compromise or relent, not for any reason. You will not enable his bullying in any way.

If you're half-hearted the bully will read that in your mood and behavior, no matter what your words are, and he will call your bluff.

You can't convince bullies to back off or change with well-reasoned pleadings. You can't nice them out of their bullying. The nice-guy stuff just won't work. I know, I tried it about a zillion times before I wised up. That kind of thing can't touch the deeper motive forces which drive a bully.

Instead he needs to feel in his body the full impact and power of your personal presence projecting your stand across to him in no uncertain terms.

The bully is expecting you to either submit or counterattack, both of which he is ready for and welcomes. But you don't do either. You take your Advocacy Stand, which takes him outside his comfort zone and into territory where you are very much at home.

And one more thing, you never compromise your stand. It's not like everybody's ideas are equal. For instance, I believe that...

Bullying is not good for a person's soul.

So when I am stopping a bully, I'm being his advocate—whether he sees it that way or not, whether he likes it or not.

I don't care how many people agree with me or not, this is something so central to who I am that I don't budge from it.

And the same when I'm working to stop exploitation and oppression and other ugly things like that. There are people who seem to be fine with exploiting others. They seem to enjoy the excessive wealth that comes from such behavior. They seem to have no moral compunctions about it, no sense of shame. But that's them not me.

And while I'm working hard to take the power to exploit away from them, and they might feel like I'm against them, I believe I'm totally their advocate, because...

I believe those bad behaviors are bad for their souls.

It is the Stand you take that is at the core of your life that gives you the ability to engage in conversations with bullies and other people you disagree with and do so from a place of power, rather than playing the victim.

And the Advocacy Stand makes it possible to have a breakthrough with a bully. It may happen only rarely, but it is possible. And when it happens it is a remarkable thing. I always think I'm seeing one of the wonders of the human world.

Next I want to give you a conversation to demonstrate how it's possible to talk with a bully from your Advocacy Stand. Not that it's easy. Not that you necessarily want to do this with every bully you meet. But it's great to have the kind of mastery of advocacy that gives you the option of engaging if you want to take it.

Ross:  Hey, Neil, I want you and your crew to come in on this grant with me. Do the collaboration thing.

Neil:  Hey, Ross, last grant you ask me about, I told you no. And in fact, I can tell you this time, that it doesn't matter what the grant is, me and my staff are not going to work with you on any grant...

Ross:  So you guys can't think about anyone but yourselves, is that it?

Neil:  ...me and my staff are not going to work with you on any grant, because...

Ross:  You know collaborating is the state-of-the-art thing in the sector these days. You guys are really out of touch. What is it? You don't know how to play well with others? Is that the story? You don't know who to do something as cool as running a collaboration?

Neil:  Me and my staff are not going to work with you on any grant, because you and I....

Ross:  That seems like a snap judgment. You're not going to even talk this through? Wow, I think you've got a character problem. Is it that you're scared to take on a challenge like this? Is it that you're not man enough to take this on?

Neil:  Hey, Ross, want me to do you a favor?

Ross:  Hell, yes, do me the favor of joining me in this grant.

Neil:  I've got another favor for you. Want it?

Ross:  Whatever.

Neil:  Me and my staff are not going to work with you on any grant because you and I have very different ways of playing with others. We're not a match for each other. We're not compatible. So collaboration of any kind is off the table.

Ross:  Well, that's really judgmental and insulting.

Neil:  Would you rather have me lie to you?

Ross:  Well...

Neil:  I mean it, Ross, would you rather that I just tell you lies?

Ross:  What kind of question is that?

Neil:  Do you really want me to join your collaboration when I really don't want to?

Ross:  We all have to make sacrifices sometimes. Sometimes you just have to suck it up and do what needs to be done.

Neil:  That's really interesting. Has that worked for you in the past?

Ross:  Yeh, sometimes in a collaboration you give more and sometimes you get more.

Neil:   But I've got a feeling that you know how to work things so that you get more. I mean you're not a sacrifice kind of guy are you?

Ross:  Well, no I'm not. That doesn't really agree with me.

Neil:  Me, either. See, we've got that in common anyway.

Ross:  So then we can work together?

Neil:  How about if we do the collaboration on my terms not your terms?

Ross:  No way.

Neil:  Well, see, we've got that in common, too.

Ross:  So how are we going to work together?

Neil:  Now that's a great question.

Ross:  So let's just jump in and do it and find out.

Neil:  Sounds like you really need someone to work with you on this grant.

Ross:  Well, we could do it on our own, of course, but those funders have something against me. They'd look at it more favorably if I had others in on it with me.

Neil:  That's tough.

Ross:  Tell me about it. So I have to get other organizations on board.

Neil:   But on your terms.

Ross:  Well, of course.

Neil:  You know, there's something I'm curious about. How hard is it to run people? I mean, it seems to me like it's got to take an awful lot of energy. It can't be all that easy.

Ross:  Hell, no, it's not easy. That's what people don't understand. If you want to keep people under your thumb, you've got to stay on top of them. All the time. You don't get to relax. You're always on duty.

Neil:  Wow.

Ross:  So are you just asking that to rub it in?

Neil:  No. You know what, I keep getting a glimpse of another you behind the scenes. At least I think that's what I'm seeing. A you who might want things to be different. Might want to take a break from the past. Want to talk about that? That's a conversation I'd be glad to ave with you.

Ross:  What are you talking about?

Neil:  I've seen how dedicated you are to our field. I see your good heart. Even though, it seems to me you work awfully hard to keep it hidden. But I just absolutely believe it's there. And the stand I would take for you is for you to come out from behind your control stuff and really join the rest of us. I know that's a pretty bold thing to say.

Ross:  I don't like hearing it.

Neil:  Yes, but I really mean it. I think you could have much better friendships in our network, much better, if you treated us better.

Ross:  Who are you to tell me about my life?

Neil:  Nobody. Nobody at all. And you can tell me to go to hell anytime you want. And I'll go. But here's what I believe. I believe you want better for yourself. Better working relationships and better friendships. And I believe you can have that. I believe there's a part of you that really wants that and maybe even wants it badly.

Ross:  Why are you telling me this?

Neil:  Because I want to. It's what's in my heart to say to you.

See, I'm taking really good care of myself. Me and my crew are not going to collaborate on terms that work for you and not for us. So that's me advocating for myself and my staff. It's taken me a long time and a lot of work to get to this place in my life, but I'm here. And so it's no problem at all for me to tell you no. It's easy as pie.

But in this moment, I also feel like being your advocate. Maybe this is not how you want someone to advocate for you, maybe it is, I don't know, but this is me. This is where I stand with you. I want better for you than what I see going on. And I'd love for you to be on the inside with our network instead of on the outside.

Ross:  I think I have to go now. Somewhere else. But how about if I call you tomorrow and we continue this fight?

Neil:  Deal.

Notice how Neil was a force to reckon with. And how Ross opened just a crack. If he keeps opening, great. But if not, do you think he will ever try to bully Neil into anything in the future knowing how Neil will come back at him? It's really hard to argue with someone who's advocating for you no holds barred. Not impossible, but really hard.

 

Transparency
You don't have to be sneaky or cagey. The Advocacy Stand is not a technique. It is, again, a way of life, a social-change way of life, so that means we want everyone in on it. We want everyone learning about it and practicing it. Instead of keeping it secret, we want to teach it every chance we get.

You can teach it in staff inservices or in supervision sessions. But you can also teach it by weaving teaching moments into any advocacy conversation you're having. And doing that actually helps build trust because you're revealing what you're thinking and feeling as you go. I think of it as...

Narrating yourself.

This is part of the relationship courage I talk about on my second staff page. You're opening yourself and stepping into the relationship rather than pulling back and away from it and dealing iwth it from a safe distance. Which might make the other person feel left behind or abandoned.

Here's a snippet of how narrating yourself might sound when you're calling the question with a staff person about a problem.

At one point, the staff tells the ED...

I feel like you're implying that I'm a bad person and that makes me mad.

And now the ED responds...

I'm really sorry. I've been very careful not to use any words of judgment, because I don't believe you're a bad person. Not at all. In fact, I know you're committed to our mission. It's so evident, it's impossible to miss.

What I'm doing with you right now is called the Advocacy Stand. You don't have to like it or agree with it, but I do want you to know what I'm doing. I believe I'm trying my best to be on your side, because my first hope is that you'll be able to clear up this one key problem you've got with your performance and be a success here and be happy here with us for a very long time.

And then my second hope is that if you do not choose to fix the problem, if our work and our team are not a match for you for whatever reason, that you'll go find a place to work where you'll be happy.

Because, see, another thing I believe is that you are more important than this work. I really do want you to be happy.

And in that spirit, may I ask you, what do you need right now to be able to have this conversation with me? And how might I help you deal with this problem so it doesn't hold you back anymore and so you can go soaring with us?

And here's how self-narrating might sound with someone you're championing...

I wanted to ask you if we could have a special kind of conversation.

What kind?

Well, you've been here six months and you keep blowing me away with your willingness to take on bigger responsibilities and how you nail them and how supportive you are of every single person on our team. So I'm wondering if you would be willing to talk about your future. I see big things ahead for you.

You do?

Yes, I really do. Do you see that, too?

I would like to.

Well, what I'd like to have with you is what I call a Championing Conversation, which sounds like fun and it really is, but I want to give you a caution, too, because it can also be daunting. It might take your breath a way to look at what's really possible for your future. it might get to feel overwhelming.

Oh.

And sometimes shoulds sneak in, Like if something is possible for me then I should do it. And that's not at all what I want to have happen.

Okay.

Here's what's in my heart. I consider myself to be a big fan of yours. I want to be your advocate in this conversation. But I want anything you decide about your future to be entirely your decision. I don't want to put any pressure of any kind on you. And there's no rush. I'd consider this just an opening conversation. We can stop anytime you feel you've had enough. And then pick again later if you like.

So I'm wondering what you're thinking now, and what you would need to make this conversation work for you if you want to have it.

Wow, first of all, just the thought of it does kind of take my breath away. No one has ever offered anything like this to me. So thank you. And thanks for taking the time out of your schedule. I know how busy you are.

You're really welcome. I'd love to be your advocate so it's no sacrifice at all. This is one of my all-time favorite things to do. It's my way of saying thank you to you.

Okay, then here's what I'm thinking. I'd like to ope up possibilities and play with them and explore. I'm loving what I'm doing and taking on these new responsibilities is challenging enough for now. But I do like the idea of looking ahead. I always like that. Because if I know where I'm going, or have a bunch of ideas about where I might go, then I know I'll get much more out of what I'm doing in the present.

I'd be glad to have this conversation on those terms. And can I count on you to let me know if anything else comes up that you want to ask for as we go?

Yes, absolutely. So, how do we start?

Isn't it sweet that in practicing the Advocacy Stand, transparency, as it makes you more vulnerable, makes you more powerful?

 

© 2010 Rich Snowdon