Learning Political Savvy to Take The Lead

Woman PromotionHave you ever wondered why some people seem to get a free pass? Their mistakes are minimized and their achievements maximized. Doors open for them, and they enjoy the spotlight without a tremendous amount of fanfare. They may or may not be as competent and talented as you are, but everything seems to work in their favor.These people are politically astute. They have learned to work the system in a subtle way. They have gained favor with those in power, and this is not by accident. This is a skill—a skill that’s necessary to take the lead and get the promotions we deserve.Early in my career, my comfort level, like many women, was to focus on my work and performance—that is, until I was passed over for a promotion. Although I was recognized as a top performer, I wasn’t promoted because I didn’t understand the rules of the game. My laser focus on my work blinded me to the politics at play and how the decision about the position was to be made.Avoiding office politics and focusing on work is common for women. In fact, according to 2011 research from Harvard Business Review, 77% of women believe their talent and hard work position them for advancement. Avoiding the politics, however, makes us vulnerable, because we lack information about what it takes to get promoted and who makes and influences the decisions. We are essentially working in a vacuum with little or no input from key stakeholders on how to move our careers forward.Political savvy is critical in order to survive and thrive in highly competitive work environments. It involves both the willingness to embrace the politics and the savvy to navigate the reality of your workplace.Here are the top 5 things you need to do to become politically savvy and take the lead at work: 

  1. Promote yourself with savvy and authenticity.

In order to promote yourself well, first take the time to understand your value proposition: the unique way you deliver your work for successful business outcomes. Your value proposition gives you confidence to communicate your achievements, enabling you to see the direct relationship between your work and specific business results. Once you understand this relationship, you can position yourself across your organization as someone who can help others achieve their goals for the overall benefit of the business. In doing so, you gain more visibility and credibility for yourself and your team.

  1. Observe your workplace dynamics.

There are three major things to look for when it comes to your workplace: the rules, the power, and the culture. Who has power and influence? How are decisions made? Who are the decision makers? Who influences those decisions? What are the formal rules and the unwritten rules? Which rules are sacred? What does it take to get ahead? What type of behavior is rewarded and what is not?It takes focus and intention to understand the complexities of your workplace culture. There are constant shifts in power and influence and changes in leadership bring changes in the rules and culture. Keeping abreast of these dynamics gives you the information you need to align yourself with those who can best help you reach your goals, move your career forward, and avoid landmines.

  1. Network strategically

Research supports the fact that networking strategically leads to higher incomes and bonuses and faster promotions. To take a strategic approach to networking, start with your career goal. Who do you know and who do you need to know inside and outside the organization to help you reach that goal? Step outside your comfort zone to build connections and relationships with the right people—people who will speak for you and recommend you for promotions and high-profile assignments.Research also shows that the more diverse your network, the more effective it is for your advancement. Be prepared that acquiring a diverse network may require you to step outside your comfort zone and reach out to people you may not know but who you believe can help you reach your goal.

  1. Find a sponsor

As you build a network of allies and champions, identify potential sponsors. Sponsors take action on your behalf and help create new opportunities for you. In fact, according to Sylvia Ann Hewlett, when it comes to winning-high profile assignments, the intervention of sponsors tends to improve outcomes by 30%. If your company has a formal sponsorship program, find out what the qualifications are for enrollment. If there is no program, you might consult with your boss, colleagues, or Human Resources to identify someone appropriate.

  1. Get a coach

Working with an executive coach helps you overcome both your internal and external barriers to success. A good coach can have a huge impact on your career by providing a clear roadmap for you to reach your goals. He or she can assist you in the development of leadership skills, executive presence, and political savvy.Ambitious women need to understand that great performance only qualifies you for the promotion. Political skills are essential career competencies to get ahead and stay ahead, and they are especially important for high-achieving women working in competitive, male-dominated organizations.It’s time for you to take control of your career destiny and learn the political skills to take the lead.