Not everybody enjoys the political side of work, but if you want to reach the top it’s a game you’re going to have to play.
I stepped out of the corporate world after having my three children and it’s certainly not something I miss. This was confirmed to me when I caught up with an old contact recently – ten years ago I led recruitment at a bank and she was the agency recruiter. She’s now head of talent acquisition for one of the largest companies in the world, with a team of 100 people. I work from home, usually in my trackies.
For a moment I wondered if I’d made a mistake, would I be where she was if I’d kept at it? Would I want to be? It didn’t take me long to come up with an answer to both questions: no. Why? Because I’m not politically savvy enough.
What does it mean to be politically savvy?
A person may not be the best in terms of technical knowledge or leadership, but if they have political savvy they’ll go far. That means they’ve got good negotiating, influencing and stakeholder management skills; embrace the culture of an organisation; network relentlessly and broadly across a business; build alliances to exploit when the time is right and aren’t afraid to push their own agenda.
Even if you don’t want to rise up a company it’s a useful skill. And it’s learnable – although if it doesn’t come naturally it takes a lot of effort to develop and maintain. Also, although office politics has a bit of a bad name, you can network and self-promote in a positive way, rather than gossiping at the expense of others.
Office politics exists in all offices and it is essential to deal with it
When it comes to getting promoted to senior roles political savvy is vital. It took me a while to understand that.
When I first started working for a large company I hated the red tape, approval processes and endless meetings. I was also insecure and questioned my expertise, needing constant reassurance from my manager that I was performing well. Nagging away at the back of my mind was that they’d soon find out I wasn’t good enough.
I tried to avoid confrontation and keep everyone happy, falling into the trap that many women do: believing if I did my job well and honed my expertise I’d be promoted eventually.
But experience has taught me that’s not how to get yourself noticed. You need to make some noise, be seen in the right places and talk to the right people. And I’m proof you can learn how to do it.
I may never be chief executive of a multi-national company, but I’m much more comfortable in my own skin and confident in my expertise these days. As a result I’m happier being a little more self-promoting. Having my own business has been a key driver here. Clients don’t just walk through the door so I’ve had to learn to sell my expertise on a daily basis.
The more people I meet, the more I realise nearly everyone feels a little insecure sometimes. It’s worth remembering you probably know a lot more about your area of specialisation than the person you’re talking to. That’s what’s given me the confidence to question the status quo, challenge decisions and be an advisor rather than a yes-man which, ultimately, makes me better at what I do.
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