What is the difference between an ally and an advocate?
The terms ally or advocate are likely most familiar to you in the context of politics or equality. Let’s start with a clear definition.
Merriam-Webster describes an ally as:
- A helper, person or group that provides assistance and support in an ongoing effort, activity, or struggle.
And describes an advocate as:
- Someone who pleads the cause of another, defends or maintains a cause or proposal. Or one who supports or promotes the interests of a cause or group.
You may wonder how they might apply within an organization. Good question!
It is infinitely easier to relate to the concepts with examples.
Imagine as a business finance partner, your sales team want to aggressively price a deal to win a strategic customer. The sales leader is bulldozering over various teams to achieve her goal. She’s driven and focused on the win; she knows this will land her a promotion she has worked hard for. The pricing, marketing, operations and finance teams pull out all of the stops to make it happen. Two weeks later, the company is awarded the win!
The question to ask yourself is: did the end justify the means?
We can look at this from two perspectives, as an ally and advocate for:
- The sales leader
- The individuals being bulldozered (meaning bullied)
Transitioning from passive observer to that of ally or advocate
I’ll start by acknowledging for some, it might be challenging to see themselves as an ally or advocate for a person behaving in an intimidating or abusive manner. Bear with me as I clarify.
An ally for the sales leaders is one that will support the objective that needs to be achieved but does NOT necessarily support witnessed behaviours. It is from this perspective that we consider the sales leader whereas we will tackle behavioural aspects as an ally (or advocate) for the bulldozered individuals. Addressing perspectives in this way helps clarify the issues and highlights a new way forward for these roles.
I believe it helps to recognize that some individuals are more comfortable as an ally and some as an advocate. The key point is choosing a positive path rather than doing nothing at all. Being a passive bystander will increasingly become unacceptable for leaders.
Focusing on the objective may feel disjointed because it indirectly addresses the people side of the equation. Let’s look more closely at some of what it means to help create a healthy workplace where individuals feel valued.
These are some of the most common behaviours and actions one can take to be either a business team ally or advocate.
Boiling it down to three key messages
- Take ally-like actions
- Lead by asking questions
- Make it possible for colleagues to speak for themselves
Good allies challenge their own biases and earn peer recognition as an ally or advocate. For instance, as an ally it is important not to assume, we have all of the answers (in other words avoid being paternalistic), nor that we know what the affected individuals feel or need (in other words we don’t speak for others). As advocates, we challenge the status quo and actively lobby for transparency, action and accountability – it is only when we all speak up that we create healthy and productive workplaces. In these spaces, all stakeholders benefit!
This understanding has become particularly clear during the last couple of years following the long overdue rise in equal rights movements such as #MeToo, #BLM and #GenderEquality. The growing social movement is prompting an acceleration of workplace changes, as well as within society through the UN’s Sustainability Goals.
What are your tips and techniques for shifting from a passive role to the active one of business ally or advocate?
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