Career Growth: 5 Key Points to Make Office Politics Work for You

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There was once a time when I thought “Office Politics” was tantamount to a dirty word. It was something low, underhanded and potentially unethical. If this sounds familiar, I’m here to illustrate for you that office politics isn’t this offensive behavior I once thought it was. Hopefully, I can help you jump beyond that to see how it is something for you to master, if you intend to rocket your career to the next level. If you look up the definition of politic or politics you find the following: - wise in promoting a policy – tactful and shrewd – competition between groups or individuals. In other words, a person who is politically savvy in the office is someone who is wise at promoting themselves and promoting the agenda of the business management that will move them both ahead. Any time you get more than a few people together for a specific reason, you have politics to deal with. Politics are formed as a result of a combination of factors, not the least of which includes popular opinion and goals (or agendas). Politics are driven by the most dominant people in the group. Generally, the most dominant is the boss, but you can’t discount the natural evolution of the alpha leader that most groups include. The alpha leader is, for a number of reasons, the unofficial leader of the group. Sometimes their opinion matters more than the bosses or certainly as much. How can you use office politics to promote your career growth? 1. Identify influencers. You need to first understand the major influencers in the group. Obviously, you can pick out the boss(es). There will be other people in the group who are looked to for answers and opinions, even by the boss. They may or may not be the most senior or experienced. You can pick them out because they will usually voice an opinion or provide input on most subjects. You will observe people going to them for counsel, advice and insight. They may be irritating, picky people, but they are still the ones that wield power. Knowing who’s who in your organization is important, as you need to learn from these people and understand what is being prized and rewarded. 2. Know the boss’ level of power. You need to understand the power your boss does or does not exert. Although power is given to the boss by virtue of their position, it doesn’t always mean they possess personal power. This is important to understand, because if they can’t sway opinion by their personal ability, there is a limited opportunity for them to impact your career growth. This is an unfortunate situation in some instances, but not always. Bosses in this situation may not be able to campaign for you, but they probably aren’t going to be a barrier either. This simply means you can’t anticipate or work to have them aid you in career growth. It will save you time and effort if you understand this characteristic. 3. Include mentors in your plan. You need to devise a career growth plan that includes not only the work experience you need to bump you up, but define who your mentors and advocates will be. You also need to mentor and advocate for others. The more people that you can positively bring up with you, the better your long term success will be. We are loyal to those who have helped us the most. 4. Observe the shifting tides of opinions. Many things have a cycle of popularity. Just as your hair style may have gone out of style last year, so do the opinions and popularity of people at work. These shifts can range from slow and subtle to fast and abrupt. When they are subtle you may start noticing that the person who was once the department darling is now simply occupying space. What was once thought of as brilliant concepts by the alpha dogs is now largely ignored. There are numerous reasons why these shifts take place – too numerous to mention. If this happens to you, you either need to figure out how to regain the stature you once had or move. If this happens to an influencer you had garnered support from, you simply need to recognize the change and make a decision about who your next support will be. This sounds cold and calculating. I’m not suggesting you toss this person to the curb, unless they hold no other value to your career growth. If they do, then keep them for the other valuable asset they still are. 5. Be always ready to seize new opportunities. Keep in mind that if you aren’t performing the primary job you were given, then it makes almost no difference how observant and scintillating your ideas are. If you aren’t doing the basics, the rest of this will make almost no difference. Your performance is the solid base you have to build to spring board the rest of your moves from. Assuming you are doing your job and doing it well, you can plan your growth by jumping on opportunities the political environment presents. Office politics is similar to chess. There are infinite numbers of moves and the best players are the ones who think of the future move possibilities and see how the dynamics of the board continue to change.

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  • Melissa Kennedy
    Melissa Kennedy
    Thanks so much Marylada. Office politics can be extremely difficult to navigate. Before you can really participate, you have to do a little recon and look at the big picture.
  • Marylada
    Good point. I hadn't thought about it that way.

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