Many of us begin new jobs with hope, enthusiasm, commitment and drive. And then something happens. We come up across obstacles we struggle to navigate. Bosses we thought were champions go silent and become unavailable. Colleagues who should be supportive thought partners seem to be hoarding information and have no time for us.
It’s easy to blame ourselves, and even easier to blame someone else. But the truth is, it’s bigger than that. When people are brought together, they inevitably compete for limited resources. The problem is that resources are always limited whether it’s additional headcount, a promotion, a manager’s attention, or a runway for your new idea. And that competition is the definition of office politics.
The solution is for organizations, teams, leaders and managers to embrace being politically intelligent, discarding outdated notions of politics as manipulative and back stabbing. To be politically intelligent is to embrace an approach that develops strategic alliances and creates goodwill in service to the organization’s business or mission. Organizations are politically dysfunctional when cliques, gossip and turf wars create internal churning that waylays your success and that of the organization.
The politics can be especially challenging for minorities, women and LBGTQ individuals. They often feel that the deck is stacked against them. They haven’t even been introduced to the game that some people know how to play, let alone mastered it. And they’re right. The workplace has its own set of rules that are often unwritten, but can be learned.
My team and I have created a four-dimensional model of Political IQ that educates leadership, managers and rising talent on how to be politically savvy while maintaining their integrity. The goal is not to eliminate what cannot be eliminated, but instead to help others learn and use the tools for individual and organizational growth.
Here’s how it’s done:
Build Credibility by finding opportunities to earn others’ gratitude and goodwill
To build trust you should keep your promises, openly share information and accept responsibility for your actions and mistakes. But do so strategically and intentionally, since not everyone will appreciate or return the favor. This is especially important for diverse employees since they may need to call upon the gratitude and goodwill that they created.
Generate Support by influencing others’ viewpoints
How successful are you in aligning everyone around the same goal? Do you manage others’ emotions and get them personally invested in the work? Do you know how to lobby superiors for organizational resources? These skill sets allow you to not only leverage the relationships you’ve built, but to transform them into allies, sponsors and partners.
Pursue Results by working through challenges and changes to achieve goals
When you meet resistance, you need a variety of tools in your tool kit to overcome it. This is where adaptability, keen listening skills, knowing and supporting your managers’ goals and other related behaviors come into play. Through self-reflection and assessment, use failure to learn where you can improve and create new ways to overcome roadblocks, rather than admit defeat.
Read the Chessboard by constantly gathering and analyzing information
Do you know when someone is looking ahead, wondering who is going to succeed or fail? Observe who asks for regular feedback rather than waiting for, or avoiding, it. Is there someone on the team who always seems to have their finger on the pulse of industry and competitor changes? Do they openly seek opposing points of view? That’s someone who is actively accumulating data and increasing their political knowledge base.
We would like to believe that hard work is enough, that our efforts are rewarded with recognition, compensation and opportunity. That may be true in meritocracies, but the work place isn’t a pure meritocracy. Collaboration and communication are goals, but they don’t solve every problem and often don’t go as well as planned. When that happens, talent doesn’t rise to the top, but instead gets pushed out the door by internal competition and office politics.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Thinking differently about office politics will help you remove those invisible barriers and take actions to ensure that they never stand in your way again.