Monthly Archives: July 2013
Whether or not we want to admit it there are politics in every office. This has become such a negative term in the US, at least, that most people want to avoid the topic. However, politics is a part of the process of working together. We’ve come to regard it as an ugly game that is played.
When you look up the definition of politics you find that one is “competition between competing interest groups or individuals for power and leadership (as in a government)” per Webster’s dictionary. It’s true that politics is often a competition between individuals for power and leadership. Does that make it a bad thing? Not really. It’s a fact of life and work.
So how do you become adept at office politics? First succeeding in office politics means avoiding the following things:
- Stealing credit
- Playing the blame game
- Sucking up to those in power
- Demeaning others
These things are all negative actions and are quite hostile to those you work with on a daily basis. When you engage in these activities you are showing others that you are willing to do whatever it takes to get ahead and that others don’t matter to you nearly as much as your career means.
It is possible to do well in office politics without selling your soul. To do so focus on these things:
- Act with integrity
- Support the organizations goals
- Treat others well
- Build relationships throughout the organization
- Bring solutions not just problems
- Take responsibility and follow-through on commitments
- Be willing to do new things that challenge you to grow
These are all behaviors that demonstrate your leadership abilities and they will help others see you as a leader. How you define your career success is up to you. If you want to move up in your organization you will need to show others that you have the ability to do what is needed to support the organization. This means playing the office politics game, however it can be a clean and rewarding game.
To become a successful office politician means that you are capable of interacting with people outside your direct group to get things done. This is really about building relationships and collaborating with others in a way that people will respect. Focus on building relationships and building trust and you will succeed without succumbing to the ugly side of office politics.
Photo from iStockphoto.com
As part of a work team you often have several roles to play: instigator, critic, supporter, cheerleader, or ditch digger. Most of these roles are pretty clear cut you know each is unique and can tell who is playing which role at any given time. However, it can be a fine line between supporter and cheerleader. There are times when we think we are providing support when all we are really doing is cheering someone on. Maybe that is all the support they need, but what if they need more help.
The difference between supporting and cheering is in the meaning of the words and how they show up in teams. Support means to advocate, assist, help, corroborate, or maintain. Cheer means spirit, animation, welcome or something that gladdens. So when you get down to it supporting your team means getting your hands dirty (figuratively) and helping get stuff done. Cheering the team on can be a form of support when morale is low and people need some encouragement to keep going, however it may not be enough to really help move things forward.
My office was next to Judy’s and she brought a lot of life and fun to the department. You could always count on her to find something to laugh about and her energy level was so high she brought the rest of us up whether we wanted it or not. While she was great fun when we had projects to pull together and it was all hands on deck to help, she would be tied up with other duties or in meetings elsewhere. At times it was maddening because another set of hands would have cut our time down significantly. Another person in our group was Karla, who was a very positive person and would always look for the positive in any situation. Karla’s energy wasn’t even close to Judy’s yet she was in many ways the rock of the department. If you were tackling a big project, or working to figure something out you could count on Karla to show up and pitch in, often unasked. There were more than one occasion where Karla would set aside her work to help out; just to make sure things got done in a timely manner.
I can tell you I dearly loved working with both of these ladies, they were wonderful people and I learned from each of them. I can also honestly say that I would work with Karla any day and often wish she was around to help me get unstuck now. Judy was fun and enjoyable to be around yet I don’t find myself wishing she was on my team today.
Judy was a cheerleader first and foremost. Karla was a supporter before she was a cheerleader. While teams need some of both roles the supporters are the ones who are most valuable to the team. Anyone can be a cheerleader when it’s needed, however it’s hard for some people to be supporters. Thinks about your interactions with your team, do you support first or cheer first? Offer your hand to help more often than you give pep talks. That is just as encouraging and often more needed.
It’s very important in a leadership role not to place your ego at the foreground and not to judge everything in relationship to how your ego is fed. ~ Ruth J. Simmons
I don’t have a mentor in the strict definition. I take as much advice and inspiration as I can from the people I am close to.
Years ago I was going to a meeting in place of my boss. As I was leaving for it he told me he trusted me to make good decisions and if I didn’t he would just fire me. My response was “promises, promises.” From this exchange it’s pretty obvious that John did not fully trust me to act in the best interests of the department, or in his best interests.
Needless to say when I think about the “bad” bosses I’ve had over the years John comes to mind right away. In reality he was a nice guy and he wanted me to succeed. Unfortunately he was so worried about us doing well that he didn’t let us make our own decisions and take our own risks. His concern showed up as micro-managing all of us. His behaviors lead the group to act like a herd of sheep. Most of the group was not willing to make a decision without checking in with him first. A few of us went against this grain and regularly had issues because of it.
I was not willing to abdicate my ability to think to the boss. If I was out supporting our customers, both internal and external, I made decisions about what needed to be done on the spot. There was no efficiency in checking in with the boss for every little thing that needed to be done. Our customers had no interest in waiting for someone else to approve my actions. My position was supporting production which means problem solving most of the time. I learned a few tricks in dealing with micro-managers like John.
- Touch base regularly. Even though I was not willing to handover all decision making to John I would stop by and let him know what I had done and shared the results of my actions.
- No surprises. Part of the driver behind micro-managers is a need for control so it was important to let John know what was happening, particularly anything that went wrong. He responded better when he heard of problems from me before he heard about it from someone else.
- Use as a sounding board. One great technique was to identify a problem, come up with a complete solution and then run it by John for his take on it. Using a micro-manager as a sounding board gives them some up front input to your solutions. With time the changes he made to my ideas dropped significantly.
- Own your issues. John was asking a co-worker and I what was delaying implementation of a project. Mike answered “that would be me”. John just asked why. When Mike explained the cause John said “get it done” and left. That type of delay would normally earn the person a dressing down in John’s office. By owning the issue there was nothing left for John to say.
- Provide solutions. Micro-managers love it when people bring them problems to solve. However, for your career success you need to be able to act independently. Bring solutions to problems when you meet with your boss. This will earn you respect from them and eventually they will relax their control.
In the long run I learned a lot from John, some of which was how not to treat my employees and some was the danger of sheltering people from the tough decisions that must be made. I had a good relationship with him and he did support me when I moved onto another factory. By holding my own and showing him that he could trust me to make good decisions I was given more freedom to act than most in my department. It was much harder to earn his trust, I had to force it. Learning how to succeed with a major micro-manager also showed me how people want to be treated and how to respond properly to them. When you run across a micro-manager tread carefully but stay true to yourself. Being aware of their issues will help you be heard and you can succeed in spite of their restraints.
Have you ever said you would take care of a problem, knowing you weren’t going to do anything about it? Maybe it’s just one customer complaint out of thousands of customers. Does it really matter if you say you will fix it to make the customer happy and then let it drop? Yes it does for several reasons. First, your word is now questionable because you didn’t follow through on it. Secondly, that customer may give your organization a second chance and when they find no change, the word of the entire organization has lost its meaning.
About two weeks after I transferred from one factory to another I was called to address some concerns and questions from our field service representatives. One, Pierre, was really angry with the quality of several products coming out of that factory. Unfortunately, this was the first I heard about it, so all I could do was say I would check into it and find a solution. Pierre basically said my word was worthless because my predecessor had said that for years and nothing had changed. Why should he believe me? Now I’m really on the spot, what can I say as he had been let down more than once by this factory? He was right to be mad. I acknowledged his frustration and gave him my word it would be addressed immediately. He still wasn’t buying it. Fortunately for me there was a rep in room that I had worked with several times to fix problems while I was at the previous factory. I knew Mike had been satisfied more than once with my efforts so I asked him to vouch for me. He did and Pierre gave me a short window to address his concerns. I found the issue that was causing his concern and changed the process to improve the quality. The people performing the process had never heard of the issue; they weren’t thrilled with the change however they were willing to do what was needed to improve the quality of their work. It put the problem to bed once and for all. Our field service folks were much happier with the quality from the factory as were the end customers.
I can’t say for sure why my predecessor never really addressed the cause of the complaints but it really damaged the reputation of the factory with several field service representatives, dealers and end customers. The time it took to address the quality issue was about a week total, investigating the cause, determining the best solution, communicating the change and then monitoring it. Inside of a month it became a non-issue for production. Yet it had festered with our customers for about three years and it took another year for them to really believe we would live up to our word. By promising a fix and not changing anything it cost three years of mistrust and a year of rebuilding for something that took a week to get implemented. That’s a poor investment in time and effort.
Following through on a commitment to a customer or co-worker may take extra time and effort on your part, but it is far less than it takes to fix the damage caused by dropping the ball. Once people feel they cannot trust you to come through for them it will be very difficult to convince them to trust you. People will give you the benefit of the doubt the first time, after that it is based on your past performance. Skipping the follow up means your word is worth less than it was before and you may be bringing down everyone around you in the eyes of the customer.
It seems easy to make the promise and let it drop, however the damage can last years and haunt you and your organization. Take the time to do what you said you would do, it will be less than the time needed to repair your reputation. Develop the habit of being true to your word.
Leadership is unlocking people’s potential to become better.
The greatest gift I ever received at work was nothing flashy or even something I could display. I was given the gift of development. I had a boss who believed in me and felt I could move up in our organization with some fine tuning of my skills. Craig pushed and prodded me to grow and learn. He gave me “exposure” and “developmental opportunities”. This typically meant I was going to be uncomfortable and in things over my head. There was one year where my comfort zone was so far away I forgot what it looked like.
While I hated the situations I was in on a fairly regular basis I have to admit I would not be the person and leader that I am today without those experiences. At times I think Craig saw something in me that no one else saw. I know I wasn’t convinced in what he was telling me was possible. When I went to work in his area I knew I wanted to do something different and something more than what I’d been doing the previous 9 years. I honestly didn’t have a clear vision of where I wanted to go, it was more a case of knowing where I didn’t want to be. I learned more from working in his area in 4 years than I think I did before or since.
It was with huge mixed emotions that I left that organization to move to another part of the country. However, the confidence and growth I experience in those last 4 years gave me the courage to change careers and pursue new passions. What I learned about myself and leading others during that time created the momentum I needed to take a chance and go down a different path. It’s been a wonderful journey that is still unfolding.
I am so fortunate to have had Craig as a boss at a time when I needed someone to believe in me and then push me towards my potential. Even when I was kicking and screaming. He showed me my potential and urged me to reach for it. He also showed me the power and impact that leaders can have when they take the time to unlock the potential in others.
As leaders when make an impact each and everyday on those around us. It’s our choice whether it’s a positive one or not. Helping your followers unlock their potential is the greatest gift you can give them and give to your organization. Take the time to help someone grow and learn. You will be amazed at what can happen when you release their potential. It might just start a chain reaction of growth in your organization.