Whether you like them or not, understanding and engaging in office politics can have a powerful impact on your career.
You get that. In fact, you’ve probably seen people get promoted for political reasons multiple times in your career.
But, chances are that you’ve seen these things happen and thought to yourself: that’s not fair.
Now, you may think you’re avoiding conflict by complaining about office politics, but what ends up happening is that you just create conflict within yourself instead.
Because you will end up seeing other people get ahead in their careers for political reasons, while you stay in the same place.
I don’t complain about office politics. I get VERY excited about them.
They’re a problem to solve.
And I love solving problems.
So, in this episode of Maximize Your Career with Stacy Mayer, I dive into how to play office politics in a way that feels fun, authentic, AND helps you land the role you want.
What You'll Learn:
- The three most challenging areas when it comes to navigating office politics (and how to overcome them)
- The strategies politically savvy people use to advance their careers (Hint: it’s not about manipulation)
- What to do if the politics of your organization are actively working against you
- Why feeling “trapped” in a role stops you from thinking about possibilities
- And how to tell when you’re not being politically savvy enough
Listen to the Full Episode:
Featured on the Show:
- Ep #37: How to Build Trust at Work Using ‘15-Minute Ally’ Meetings
- Apply for free career strategy session at stacymayer.com/apply
Hello, everyone! Welcome to another episode of Maximize Your Career. I'm your host, Stacy Mayer.
Super excited to be here with you this evening as I'm recording this podcast episode. And before I get into today's episode, I just want to share a story from one of my clients that I am super proud of. I'm both proud of her and I'm also proud of the work that I've been able to do through this podcast and the content that I've been delivering to you guys each and every week.
So I get on the phone with her this week and she said, Stacy, I just want to share something with you before we get started. I was listening to your podcast episode about the '15-Minute Ally' meetings, and I'll link to that episode in the show notes. So, if you haven't listened to it yet, you can go back and listen to it. It's a good one.
And she said in that episode, you mentioned having a meeting with your CEO. And I thought to myself: 'you know what? That is something that I need to do.'.
Now, first of all, I just want to point out that this is such a great thing because, you know, why not? If you used to have a relationship with your CEO before the pandemic. Like, if your CEO was somebody that you would pass in the hallway or have conversations with on a regular basis, even if they were short five or 10 minute conversations and you're not able to have them now, there is literally no reason that you shouldn't reach out to this person and try and get a 15-minute meeting on their calendar.
So she said: 'You know what, I'm thinking of doing it. And I figured, why not?'.
And I was just so proud of her. So we work together. We crafted an email that she was going to send out to her CEO so that she could get on his calendar. We I haven't heard the results yet. I'm not sure what he said, if he wrote her back. But just taking the initiative and having the thought process and taking the time to actually do those kinds of gestures is what is going to get you promoted to that next level of leadership.
So this is what I'm talking about throughout this podcast. And if you just apply the simple steps that I am offering to you, you will start to get noticed. You will get recognized and you will get appreciated for your efforts.
So I'm super proud of her. And this is a cliffhanger. So I'll let you know if if she is able to meet with him and how that goes.
So for today's episode, I'm actually really excited about it. And this is going to be a little bit ironic because we're talking about politics in today's episode. We're talking about politics of the workplace, navigating politics. And I find it ironic that I would say I'm excited to share this episode with you guys, because I hate politics. I really do. I, I try and avoid political conversations at all costs.
And then I was thinking about why is that? And it's because I don't like conflict. I don't like stirring up problems. And it seems like when you engage in politics or political conversations, inevitably conflict arises, challenges arise. And that is just something that I don't particularly enjoy having in my life.
And I was thinking about you guys. And in terms of politics at work, that's probably what you're feeling as well. You can see that there are politics. You can see that some people get promoted for political reasons. And you think to yourself, I don't want to engage in that. That's not my style. That's not my personality. I don't like to cause problems. I don't like to stir up challenges. I don't like to bring attention to myself and my own point of views. So therefore, I don't engage in politics.
But, like I said, I'm still really excited about today's episode. So why is that?
And it's because when I think about politics at work now... This is now, where I'm at right now. I think it's been about 20 years since I started my first big corporate job working at a hedge fund in New York City. So 20 years later, I can look at it and see that it's just a game. That it can be fun. That it's just a problem to solve. And it doesn't have to be so heavy. It doesn't have to be so charged. It doesn't have to be conflict at all.
And so when I am coaching my clients to deal with some of the political challenges that they face at work, I coached them in that way. In that sort of playfulness. Like, let's see what's really going on here.
Because, as with anything, if you ignore it, you think that you're avoiding challenge, you think you're avoiding conflict, but what ends up happening is you just have conflict within yourself. You create challenges for yourself.
You might not be arguing with other people. You might not be having big heated conversations. But inside you're breaking apart. Because, like I said, you see politics happening but you're not a part of it. You see other people getting ahead in their career for political reasons, and you're not. You're not able to experience those rewards.
So, the first thing that I teach my clients is to just acknowledge the situation. Acknowledge what is happening around you. And then we can figure out a way to problem solve. We can figure out a way to have what a lot of people term 'political savvy' to actually get in there and solve the problem in a savvy way.
So in terms of politics, what am I specifically referring to?
So we all have challenges that we face at work that we feel like are insurmountable. And so we might refer to that situation as politics, right? It's not about me. It's just political. I can't get ahead because it's political. And I have broken it down into three categories.
So the three main reasons why my clients or potential clients or you as a listener will tell me that you can't get promoted at your particular organization is because of your circumstances at work. And that falls into three categories. It's because of the people around you. So, for instance, my boss doesn't support me or I don't have any exposure to the leadership team or they see me as a individual contributor and not as a leader. So the people around you see you in a certain way or they treat you a certain way. So that is one side of politics.
The second side of politics is your culture, of your organization. So this also falls in line with how people see you. But it's basically like the idea that you get pigeonholed in a certain area of expertise and in your particular organization, people don't move from one area of expertise to the other.
The other thing that could be a dilemma for people as they try and advance their career and get promoted into that next level of leadership, is that they start to realize that they don't want to do more work. They don't want to become an executive who works 12 hour days and spends no time with their family. So, they're not willing to put themselves out there because the culture of their organization feels combative to what their values are, to what they believe in as a person and the way that they organize their life. So that's cultural politics at your particular organization.
And the third piece of the puzzle is organizational politics, like your org chart. So, you can't get promoted because you need to be in a role for two years, or you can't get promoted because your boss is the next level up and your boss is never going to leave. So the different things like that that are just if you think about your org chart and the political challenges that you might be facing to get up in your organization.
So these are the three main areas of challenge that most people face. If they say, basically: 'Stacy, your program won't work for me because I have these challenges that feel insurmountable They're challenges that I can do nothing about. It's just political. It has nothing to do with me and my efforts.' And I completely disagree.
I think that there's always something that you can do. I think that it's just a game, that it's just a puzzle. It's just a problem to be solved. And believe me, if you're trying to solve a problem that you feel is insurmountable, one of the things that you want to do is get somebody on your side that believes that it's surmountable.
Now, you could be thinking: 'Well, I'd like to take the realistic view and I like to look at things like they are. And so you're just being fake, right? You just don't see what's actually happening.'
And no. I do. I do see what's happening. I look at the politics at your organization for exactly what they are. They're just a problem to be solved. And somebody else solved that problem before you.
So one of the ways that we're going to start to look at and tackle this problem of politics at your work, is we're going to think about how do people get ahead.
So those people who are playing the political game, so to speak, those people who are having success in their careers and actually able to advance, what is it that they're actually doing?
So your first reaction might be: 'Well, it's just because of who they know. They're friends with the right people. So they're in the right place at the right time.'.
So I want you to ask yourself: 'How can I be friends with the right people? How can I be in the right place at the right time so that I can put myself into that position to actually receive the benefits?'.
Now, I know you might be saying: 'Well, I don't like these people. Or I don't want to shortcut the process, or I'm not going to kiss up to people.'.
I'm not talking about that. I'm not talking about changing your behavior or your leadership style or kissing up to anybody. I'm just talking about aligning yourself with influential people at your organization. And this is literally math. Like you can get out and draw a chart with me if you want. You can do two axis and just right influence on one axis, and the other one right relationship.
So who are the influential people at your organization and what is your relationship with that person?
So if you think about it, you want to be aligned with people who are both influential and that you can get to know. And if it's not one person, there's another person. There's another person that you can create and cultivate that relationship with.
Because really understanding politics and having political savvy is just about understanding. It's not about manipulation. It's just about using the system to work for you. The same system that we see work for other people and make it work for yourself.
Now one of the other traps that many people fall into when they think about politics, because they just, like I said, they really hate it and they don't want they want to be detached from it. So what do we do instead? We complain.
So one of the ways that you can start to see if you've become a victim of politics at your particular organization, like the political game is actually working against you, is if you find yourself complaining about the same thing over and over and over again. Like: 'I'm just not getting ahead because I just don't have the right friends.' Or: 'I'm just not getting ahead because my organization keeps me in a specific place for a long time.' Or: 'I'm stuck here.' I've heard heard this so many times that people say: 'I have to stay at this organization because of my visa. I have to stay at this particular organization because I've been here for 18 years. Or until my stocks vest.'.
So you feel like stuck. And so then therefore you don't problem solve. You just feel trapped. And so, what do we do? Because we as humans don't like to feel trapped. We don't like to feel stuck. We compensate and we help ourselves feel better by complaining. Because we complain about things that we cannot control.
So if you find yourself complaining over and over and over again about your job or a particular situation at work, that is something to investigate and just say: 'OK, is it politics at play here?'.
OK, and now I want to give you some ways that you can begin to seek to understand why. How you can begin to overcome the particular political challenges that you might be facing at your organization. Because I really want you to overcome them. I want you to be able to get to that next level of leadership, not just because I want you to be able to have a better title or make a little bit more money. But because we need you, not somebody else, at that higher level of leadership. We need more diverse seats at the table. Your voice deserves to be heard. And if I can help you navigate that political system, then I am all for it. This is the type of the politics that I enjoy engaging in. I do not mind. And we are going to figure out a way that works for you.
So in terms of the politics of people at your organization, I already gave you an idea there. Look for the other influencers. Don't focus so much on turning around that one person that you have a tumultuous relationship with.
So take a step back and build some influence somewhere else. Now you might be saying: 'Well, if my boss doesn't like me, then I'm never going to get ahead. So does it matter if I build a relationship over here.'
Well, the truth is, is that if you pull back and you start focusing your efforts in a different area, then you're going to start to realize that it's not about you. It's not about your talent. It's not about your ability to do the job at a higher level. It really is just about this relationship.
So now you can come back and you can actually start to tackle that relationship. Try and mend and build and cultivate that particular relationship with that person who really is blocking you from getting to that next level of your career.
So speaking of blocking, this is the question I want everybody to ask themselves: 'Is this person actually blocking me from having success at my organization?'.
Because there's a lot of people that we don't like and we can have awkward relationships with, and they're not actually blockers of our career. And if those people are not actually blocking you from getting to that next level, then stop worrying about that person. As I just shared, if they are blocking you like your boss, let's put our attention elsewhere so then we can re-attack...attack. I mean that in the lightest sense of the word...But really problem solve on that particular situation with a different lens.
So that's a question to ask yourself. If they're not blocking your career, if they're really not a blocker, then don't worry about that person. It doesn't matter.
In terms of the culture of your organization, the ways that they see you and perceptions and the way that process happens, this is another political challenge that people have when they're trying to advance their careers is needing to stay in a certain place for a couple of years. Like this is the process. We only get promotions at promotion cycle. Oh, oh. Here's a good one.
'Because of Covid we're doing a bunch of layoffs right now and so nobody's getting promoted. They put a freeze on there.'
Have you ever seen that? They make this big announcement and this is what they're doing. And you see people get laid off. And then you also see Jim get promoted. And you're like: 'What? Wait a second. I didn't think that was supposed to happen.'.
So why does that happen? Why did Jim get promoted anyway?
And this is the part where I want you to get super curious and really think about it. What was it that he was doing differently than I'm doing? And one of the things that he did differently is believed that he could get promoted even during a crisis, even during layoffs, even during a time of change.
And one of the reasons why I also know that that is completely, not only possible, but actually a little bit more probable, is because times of change are when you're most likely to skip level. Times of change is when some big change outside of the cultural norm is going to happen to you. A big opportunity. Because they need leaders like you to really step up to the plate. To do something different. And to step into that next level of leadership.
So just acknowledging and trying to navigate the cultural challenges that you might be facing.
And in terms of the org chart and really like the hierarchy of things, we can manipulate that in all different kinds of ways. And in terms of the org chart or the hierarchy of the organization, we can look at that and play around with it like a puzzle in so many different ways.
So if you can't advance where you are, the first thing is obviously, switch departments. Switch companies. There are other ways. There are flip flop. Leave and come back at a higher level. There's so many different ways that we can figure this out and it depends on what is best for you.
But the point is, is that you start to get into problem solving mode. You start to think outside of the box.
Now, what is all of this give you? If you can start being politically savvy at your organization, using politics to work for you and not against you, not only will it get you that promotion that you deserve, not only will it get you that title, that higher pay, the recognition, a higher level of impact and influence at your organization, all of those external rewards. It's also going to teach you how to handle challenging situations. If you get good at problem solving at the level that you're at now, when you continue to advance your career, you're going to be dynamite at problem solving from the top. And those are the skills that executives need to lead at that higher level at their organization. So these political savvy skills work for you in so many different ways. You just have to go out and make them work for you. You have to embrace the politics of the workplace.
And if it's something that feels really heavy and you feel like you can't do it alone, then find a way to do it with support. Don't get support that just feeds the fire. That just adds to your complaining. Like if you have a mentor...This happens because I have some clients that have mentors outside of their organization and perhaps they they used to work for their organization, and they just turn into gossip fests. Like you're getting advice from your mentor about how to advance your career, but your mentor is just telling you "Yeah, it's impossible over there. Gosh, there's just so many problems. I don't even know if you want to work for them.'.
And while some of that stuff might be true, you're not going to be able to come up with a solution by being in that complaining mode. Just fueling the fire. So what I'm talking about is going out and getting that support that helps you see a different point of view.
So do that for yourself. Figure out a way to see the politics for what they are and do something about it. This is going to help you advance your career and have more success once you get there.
Thank you so much for listening. And I'll see you next week. Bye.
About Your Host
Hi! I'm Stacy Mayer, a Certified Executive Coach and Promotion Strategist on a mission to bring more diversity to the leadership table by getting 1000 underrepresented corporate managers promoted into senior executive positions each year worldwide.
I help undervalued executives scale to the C-Suite using repositioning strategies that build your confidence and visibility, so you can earn the recognition and support you need from key stakeholders while embodying your unique leadership style.
My podcast “Women Changing Leadership with Stacy Mayer” tackles topics like executive communication, getting more respect in the workplace from challenging bosses and team members, and avoiding the common mistakes that sabotage career advancement.