Politics were the reason I left a great job (and millions in unvested stock) at a big company.
It wasn’t that the company was terribly political; in fact, it was probably less political than most companies its size. The issue was that I wasn’t good at politics, even on a small scale.
The thing about politics is that they aren’t all bad; no matter what your role is in a company, having some politician skills is usually actually helpful for your success. This week Misha said something I thought was really insightful:
“When more than 2 people get together, there are always politics; they may not be cut-throat or mean, but they’re there.”
It is true – in many ways, what we consider organizational politics are actually just group dynamics. But great leaders know how to navigate these group dynamics, no matter how confused the groups, how murky the communications, and how many team-members-acting-as-obstacles there are.
And since most of us aren’t in a position to completely alter corporate political strategy from the top-down, I have some actionable tips and ideas to help you bring out your inner politician in your own existing circles. However, since I don’t like the term politician, I am going to call you a maximizer — since what you are really doing is building some skillz (yes, with a ‘z’!) to maximize your impact in the organization.
In the linked article the author introduces the term “frequency”:
“Much in business and life is about frequency. In selling, ‘frequency’ is a key term. It refers to the number of times you reach your customers through certain channels […] A large part of your life is interactions with other people, not only people you physically meet every day but in addition all your digital interactions.”
Sometimes it is easy to dismiss our behavior – we fail to greet the checkout clerk in the grocery store, or neglect to say thank you when someone holds the door open for us, since we are preoccupied checking our email or texting on our devices. Yet each one represents a missed opportunity, a missed chance to improve someone’s world.
Putting it into practice:
This week as you go through each day, try to come up with at least one way you can make a difference for someone. How can you create a positive interaction? Try to come up with one thing each day that will make someone else’s world just a little bit (or maybe a lot) better.
Think of it this way: I can’t control how everyone in the world is treated. But I can control how the people in my corner are impacted by my behavior. Ask yourself: what can I do to make *this person* have a better day than they’re having already? How can I help to make their day outstanding?
Repair burned bridges
One of the key obstacles to being great at navigating the corporate waters is that one coworker with whom you don’t have a good relationship. You know the one, the person you dread to have in meetings, and who you try to avoid running into around the coffee machine. Well, to maximize your effectiveness, you need to see this divide as a challenge – a chasm you have to cross, rather than avoid.
Now, before you protest: don’t assume that this person is not worthy of your time, or make excuses to not build up this relationship. Do you think politicians judge their supporters and contributors? Of course not! It would interfere with their ability to achieve their cause – winning an election. It is more important to be nice than it is to be right.
Your mission is to turn your critics into comrades. And this means that, if you have to, you should create a map and a plan to get there. I always say that relationships are like filmstrips and every interaction creates a frame. The more frames you have, the more you trust and empathize with the other person — and consequently, they start to trust and empathize you too! So if you have some negative frames in your relationship movie, the best thing you can do is create some more frames – in the way of positive interactions — to counteract the negative ones.
Putting it into practice:
Come up with 5 things you can do over the next few months to create some positive interactions with your coworker – bring them a coffee, ask them for their opinion on your project, or maybe even take them to lunch. Now put these items on your calendar, and space them out so you remember and follow through on these important appointments.
Help others shine.
You may have heard the management mantra “always take blame, never take credit”, but you don’t need to be a manager to make use of this sage advice. By helping others achieve their goals or get a see a little more of the spotlight, it actually will make you more successful.
Becoming a leader means learning to forgo your own desire for praise and accolades and defer them to someone on your team.
Putting it into practice:
There are lots of ways to do this, so it should be a slam-dunk for you! Here are some ideas; why not pick 2 to tackle this week:
In a meeting ask the person who isn’t speaking up for their opinion, and wait for them to share it. Bring people out and help the quiet ones feel heard.
Send a note to someone and cc: their manager letting them know what a great job they did on a project, or how much they helped you. The more specific and sincere the better. And they don’t have to be on your team, it can even be the janitor. (This is also a great time to remind you to do this for stores, restaurants, etc. when you receive great service. Many of those employees are compensated or bonused on positive feedback and few people give it.) Thank others for a job well done!
Take the time to go by someone’s desk who has been working hard and let them know you noticed their contribution and appreciate their dedication.
No great project can be completed without people. And you can be smart, savvy, and knowledgeable, and that is great. But you can maximize your impact by being able to motivate and collaborate with all kinds of people in the organization. The people that can be political and navigate all the challenges that come with teams and projects, are the ones with the greatest impact.
There were only 3 ideas in this post, but there are certainly lots of other tips and tricks to maximize your impact at the office. Have some that work well for you?