Why politics can be a good thing!
Aristotle said that citizens(of a community)must actively participate in politics if they are to be happy and virtuous.
He does go on to say that women and slaves and young men are too emotional to usefully play a part in the political life of a community and here we part company, but not completely!
I can agree with Aristotle on his point that, in order to play the political game we need to be responsible adults! There is no room for seeing ourselves as disadvantaged victims who are likely to be constantly out-maneouvred. We have to learn to be measured and well informed and if we are going to play ‘good’ politics, always keep in mind what the community is trying to achieve rather than merely be thinking in terms of our own success to the cost of others.
I believe women can do that very effectively but it takes an important shift in their mind set to enable it to happen.
I want to consider three aspects of being strategic: Political Savvy, Self promotion and Strategic networking
I was a mediator and I have watched many ill matched couples attempting to negotiate their marriage settlement, where the woman wants what’s best for the family and the man is treating it like a business negotiation. The woman will ask immediately for what she can live with at a stretch, whereas the man will often suggest a number, way above what he thinks he can settle for. An extreme example, but it illustrates how differently men and women see things.
The good news is that because women don’t like being seen as political we don’t think we operate strategically but research suggests that we have more political awareness than we think. Our biggest drawback is that we power brookering in a negative box. If we can see operating strategically as something that helps both us and the company be more effective, it makes more sense.
To get better at this takes some self-examination. If you understand and accept your own motivation it is much easier to ‘read’ and understand what is going on with the powerful players at the top of any organization. When you can put yourself in their position their behavior becomes more transparent. They are just people with an intention to make something happen,
It was only when recently one of my clients, the Head of HR on The Senior Leadership team had a break-through in political savvy. The COO’s commented at senior management team meeting that he would give a prize to anyone who didn’t bring up a new topic at the meeting. She took this personally and was incensed that he could dismiss any challenges to or new perspectives that she felt it was her role to provide. When she had gave herself the space to think more like an effective executive she realised he was over stretched and this was his way of expressing it rather than a personal attack on her status! She set about seeing what she could do to support him and take the pressure off!
We have talked about the importance of self-promotion. This is where having a strong sense of your brand and the contribution you make can provide you with the platform for effective strategic relationships. If you are clear when approaching a potentially helpful contact the conversation will go easily. Why wouldn’t they want you on their team?
When you know what you are good at it is easier to see how you can help someone. We women don’t always feel comfortable shouting about it but there are other ways. For example, you can offer your expertise to a colleague who needs help to have a project succeed, you can make a business case for a project you know is dear to a senior manager’s heart, you suggest coffee’s, or lunch to find out more about their priorities. All good ways to achieve exposure and credibility. There are lots of ways to get noticed. Often what holds us back is the reluctance to be visible. But if we won’t do that how can the organisation take advantage of what we have to offer?
Being relational is what women are all about, we are socialized to build networks building networks. However being strategic with those networks doesn’t automatically follow.
Research suggests that better networks help in:
·Gaining greater success,
·Helping you get promoted through having sponsors and being known to people
·Providing critical information you can use to your advantage.
In our approach to networking we women are like people who accrue thousands of airline miles and never use them. We are really good at making relationships but taking advantage of them seems inauthentic. We see the rather more transactional approach many men take as being distasteful. It is however, quite possible to network in a more thoughtful feminine way and get the same results. As one woman put it, if you make time for your colleagues when they need help, when you are struggling with something they will often return the favour and if not, if you have a deep network it won’t matter.
Making it happen
Being strategic about those connections means looking for strategic partnerships with people who have the power and influence and who are willing to recommend you. Whilst this is logical we often don’t take action because we aren’t quite sure where to start.
Bonnie Marcus in her book The Politics of Promotion sets out a structure to help you build a strategic network plan
As always the first step is to Identify your goal. When you know what you are trying to achieve it becomes much easier to recognise the opportunities that will help you to achieve it. It need not be a specific role, it might be always wanting to have challenging problems to solve. If you are inspired by that goal then you will find ways of making it a possibility.
Simple next steps
She suggests you look strategically at your work place to identify contacts who will help you build visibility and credibility to support your career goal and promote you should the opportunity arise. Then dividing up the workplace into the 3 areas below.
Using this structure enables to you identify people across the organization who should be included in your strategic network. The names that you come up with need to be on your contact list set out under the ehadings: Name/Function/Influence/Relationship. You can then identify each contact as A,B or C. Some may be more than one.
A - Decision makers for your career advancement or stakeholders
B – Influencers who have great relationships with decision makers
C – Great connectors who can introduce you to the decisions makers
Once you know your goal and the people who can help you get there you can analyse your results and work out simple simple next steps you can take to move your goal forward. Such as " Have a stretgic coffee with someone every other day. As you progress you can keep track of everyone you meet who could be of interest and build an Excel spreadsheet with dates, conversations and emails. Having recorded what they need, you will be able to refer to that information and act on it in a way that will be helpful to them and bring you to their notice. There is nothing like really listening to find out what is important to and acting on it to help them and you succeed.
This is a proactive approach to building strategic relationships. You may feel a little reluctant to be engaging in such activities but there is much evidence to suggest it is vital to a successful career. The key is seeing it as something that allows the powerful individuals in an organisation to manage relationships so that both they and the organisation are successful.