Karen Darrin

A role model, mentor or coach can help you achieve your career goals and get ahead in an organization. The first place we typically look for a mentor is our immediate boss, the person who is closest to our work. But in my experience, having a career-supporting boss is an uncommon find in our direct managers. Supervisors too often lack people development skills or organizational influence. Or they are too protective of their own status to risk elevating someone else.

A good advocate offers advice and mentorship while also revealing capabilities that we may not know we have. We can borrow an advocate’s confidence in us until we adopt it fully ourselves. They also serve as role models, allowing us to see how we can accomplish what they’ve done.

So what should you do if you don’t have a boss who supports you? Use the following advice to advance your career without requiring your boss’ direct guidance.

Create a “board of directors” for yourself. 

Instead of having one person to depend on, consider putting together a team of people who can help you advance your career. Think broadly across levels and functions, both inside and outside your organization. Look for people whose careers are further along than yours and whose style or achievements you admire. Write down the qualities you want to develop and match them with a list of people who exhibit them.

Prioritize visibility. 

Without your boss putting you in front of stakeholders, you need to find your own platform. Look for projects that will involve or be debriefed to stakeholders. If one doesn’t exist, propose a project that aligns with the corporate values or vision or that solves a stated need.

Find the influencers and offer to help. 

In every organization, there are centers of influence. When you determine who the influencers are in your work, make yourself helpful to them. Look at what you can offer them rather than just what they can give you. Contribute to their efforts without expecting a short-term return. Trust in the long-term benefit of the relationship.

Use positive outside pressure. 

Building your status outside the organization can often gain you visibility inside it. Corporate leaders notice who is visible to customers, stakeholders, and the broader industry. Professionals at any level can build a solid platform that has a greater reach than their position might indicate.


There’s no question that finding a supportive boss with influence is a direct benefit to your career. But having other ways to advocate for yourself can be just as impactful. Building a range of supporters, mentors and coaches who can help you grow in diverse ways may be the best advantage you can have.

CALL TO ACTION:  Are you feeling stuck in your career? Let’s brainstorm the best strategy to get you back on track. Slot a complimentary 30-min consult here:  Schedule Free Consult.

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