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4 Traits of an Effective Advocate - Be a Better L.E.A.D.E.R. Series

by Katarina Terzic Conrad

As we saw in the previous posts on leading our team with love and empowering them, as great leaders we also must advocate for them. Advocate is derived from the Latin word Advocare, which combines the words ad "to" and vocare "to call, to voice". An advocate is, therefore, someone who pleads the cause on behalf of another, a spokesman that supports and promotes the interests of an individual, group, or a cause.

I could not think of a better example of that than Mother Teresa who was known as an advocate for the poor and the helpless. She wanted to help the poor that were dying on the streets of Calcutta die with dignity. After many years of teaching privileged girls at a school in eastern Calcutta, she felt called to minister to the poor and left the Sisters of Loreto to teach the children in the slums of Calcutta and as she put it, help "the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to society and are shunned by everyone".

To do that she had to make sacrifices by leaving her headmaster position, sisterhood, comfort, security and privileged life. She had to take risks by going into the streets without knowing where her next meal would come from, or if she would catch any disease. She had to learn to speak Bengali and study basic medical training. She had to beg the government to use abandoned buildings to host her Missionaries of Charity organization that would care for the poor and desolate. One of her greatest gifts was that she was able to acknowledge peoples' worth, give them back their dignity, and make them feel seen. She did this with her smile and touch which she freely gave even to the lepers.

There is so much we can learn from Mother Teresa to become an effective advocate. Whether you are leading your household, church, or organization, these four traits can help you become a better leader and advocate.

1. There is no substitute for personal engagement.

We are people after all, and personal relationship forms the basis of healthy organizations. You should really know what your team values, what drives and motivates them, what their needs are. To do this you must listen well. Because at the end of the day, their performance depends on their personal wellbeing. When they are supported and understood, they are more likely to be more productive and responsive. You must not be quick to assume or criticize someone's lack of performance. You never know if they have been delivered devastating news or are going through a relationship crisis that might be affecting their work. Maybe they feel overwhelmed with balancing family and professional life. And the only way to find out this is by really being engaged with your team. Listen to your team and advocate for their needs.

2. Learn to speak their language.

In Leading With Love, I shared how I found myself in a foreign land and how despite not speaking the language well, I was put in charge of a team. Before we could even communicate effectively with words we already reflect our intentions with our body language. However, to start a culture, carry a mission, convey organizational and personal values, we have to learn the language. I can not think of a better example than my husband, who within months of meeting me learned to speak Serbian fluently. And this is before the internet and numerous language apps we have today. He learned it from the old textbooks and cassettes. So, when he told me he loved me and wanted to marry me only four months later, in my native language, I believed him! The guy I thought I was going to marry before did not make an effort to say more than a phrase or two after almost two years of dating. So when my husband asked me to marry him, he did not have to convince me of his earnest love for me.

3. Be the first to take the blame.

As a leader, you should hold yourself responsible when things are not going well. If a project fails, or the organization gets a bad reputation because of the action of one of the team members, you should publicly take the blame and apologize. The last thing you want to is to assign blame and pretend like you had nothing to do with it. If you are a leader, you had everything to do with it, because you are the one leading it. And if you say you had no idea what was going on, then again you should apologize because it was your responsibility to know.

4. Be the last to take credit.

When things go well and you receive praise for a job well done, you should give credit to your team. You have heard the jargon “behind every successful man, there is a woman." Equally important is the idea that behind a successful leader, there is a team of amazing individuals supporting and driving success.

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