For the longest time, I viewed workplace politics as something that was beneath me. It was a distraction from my actual work as an engineer. In hindsight, I can see that I just didn’t want to invest the time and energy in figuring out and trying to navigate the mechanics that took place behind the scenes at the workplace. The result was that my role and the visibility of my work suffered.
Mira Brancu, Founder and CEO of Brancu & Associates, started off our recent interview by saying, “Unfortunately, if you view workplace politics as something better off ignored, you could be sabotaging your work and opportunities to be noticed.” This is because you are not aware of the critical paths to make your projects visible or identify the stakeholders interested in your work. So let’s steal a few tips from the person who wrote the book on navigating workplace politics.
How to position yourself
How do you assess a system to get to the root of a problem? According to Mira, the first step is to evaluate yourself — what do you bring that could cause a kink or make it worse, instead of better? This can include taking actual leadership, personality or career assessments. Additionally, therapy, mentorship and coaching can be helpful tools. And one is not enough. The more information you get about your strengths and weaknesses, the more aware and active you can be.
Next, do team assessments. These are not passed out with a label that says “for managers only.” Even if you do not have an official leadership role, you can still help your team work more effectively. For example, the fast-moving doer is prone to bumping heads with the methodical worker. You can help them see what the other worker brings to the table and how they serve the team best by balancing each other.
Finally, do an environmental scan of the company. Some questions that can go into this assessment are:
- What’s the company mission?
- What’s the strategic plan?
- What’s the history of decision-making? How were decisions made before versus how are they made now?
- Are there influencers in the company who aren’t in official leadership roles?
Once you can answer these questions, you will better understand how to leverage yourself and your current influence to increase your success in the company. And you can do it with thoughtful intention and integrity.
How to protect yourself and others
We know that not everyone is interested in engaging in politics with honesty and integrity, however. Sometimes you can’t be proactive — you must go on the defensive and be a little more reactive. When it comes to reactive politics, Mira had a firsthand story to offer. She had been placed in a short-term position that she dubbed “Keeping the Titanic from sinking until they got a new director.” The workplace was toxic and displayed everything from gossip to secret deals to actual sabotaging.
From the very beginning of this assignment, she kept her immediate supervisor and the supervisor above them up-to-date on attempted improvements while also getting their feedback along the way. Simply put, she had top cover. She was making changes that a select group of people (instigators) wouldn’t like but were healthy for the company as a whole. The work was far from easy, but at least she knew that she had enough protection to see that she wasn’t exposed to attacks from instigators, and could also help keep other staff productive and protected.
How to promote yourself
Lastly, if you want to keep moving forward in the company, you can’t just blend into the crowd. A crucial part of promotion is to guarantee that you are getting credit for your work, and it is not just disappearing up the chain of command. Too many employees have presented ideas to their supervisor only to have that supervisor pass that idea on as their own. Mira offered two ways to see that your ideas promote you and not just your supervisor. First, there is the option of saying that if they like the idea, you would be happy to attend a meeting to present it along with them. Another option is to send them a mock-up of the presentation as a pdf with your name on it. Both are simple, yet straightforward, moves to keep the credit for your own work.
By understanding the psychology and politics that exist at our offices, we can navigate the workplace more mindfully, showcase our work, and find partners on our way to success. We buy into our company and the company can buy into us, too.
Jacquelyn Adams is a storyteller and an award-winning CEO. She lives in a world of constant exploration, whether it’s summiting Mount Kilimanjaro, vlogging about the future of work… or discovering how she’d do in a chocolate eating contest (answer: last place). Find more of her Lessons on Leadership articles here or connect with her on LinkedIn here.