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Corporate Politics: Are You Making These Mistakes?

You won’t like hearing it, but you need someone to be honest.

Corporate politics get a bad reputation, but it matters. You can ignore it or say you are above it, but the reality is that you won’t advance without it.

A study by the Center for Creative Leadership found that individuals with high political skills are up to 20% more likely to receive promotions and favorable performance evaluations than their peers without political skills.

Speaking from my own experience, leveraging politics the right way will not only help you get promoted but also accelerate your career growth.

Politics may sound bad, but it’s a lever in disguise. And when you learn how to pull this lever, you’ll become a corporate power player.

This week, I want to help you overcome your limiting beliefs about corporate politics and suggest a simple framework for mastering politics.

Let’s dive in.

The biggest mistakes when it comes to corporate politics

The first and biggest mistake you can make is to ignore office politics. I used to say, “I don’t do office politics,” with pride because I thought it meant doing unethical things behind people’s backs. Years later, I realized that saying it in interviews made me seem less qualified for executive roles.

So, mistake number one is ignoring office politics.

Mistake number two is networking the wrong way. Building relationships internally is crucial for leveraging politics, but HOW you do it matters. Most people just network to be friendly. They mistakenly believe it’s enough that a stakeholder knows their name. It’s not.

Mistake number three is thinking the only way to gain leverage is to step on toes and stab colleagues in the back. Honestly, that only happens in TV shows. Real-life politics is less dramatic. You can be strategically political without being unethical.

Lastly, mistake number four is thinking politics means you must serve senior leaders and that the only way to build a relationship is to follow every request blindly. It’s not. Being a yes-woman doesn’t make you a great executive. It proves the opposite.

So, if these are all mistakes, what does it look like to get politics right?

The SIMPLE strategy to nail office politics

The first step is to stop ignoring office politics and realize it is a skill you must develop to advance in the corporate world. It shouldn’t be an afterthought but rather part of your promotion strategy.

Shift from thinking about politics as having power over people and start thinking about it as having power with people. Once you do that, use the SIMPLE strategy to do the rest.

(S) Stakeholder Identification

Identify key players by uncovering who holds the power and influence in your organization.

Don’t just look at titles; identify who gets approvals and the budget and support.

You can use an influence/interest grid to map out key stakeholders.

➤ High Influence, High Interest: Engage closely and keep them informed.

➤ High Influence, Low Interest: Keep them satisfied but not overly involved.

➤ Low Influence, High Interest: Keep them informed and supportive.

➤ Low Influence, Low Interest: Monitor but don’t over-communicate.

(I) Intentional Networking

Strategic and intentional networking relies on good preparation work, or what you might call “corporate stalking.” In this case, information is power. The more you know about these people, the more strategic you can be with your networking.

You want to uncover strategic leverage points:

  1. Business needs: Goals, priorities, and pain points

  2. Identity: Their background and what makes them tick

  3. Source of influence: What is in their control? How powerful are they?

You can gather this information by looking up social profiles, analyzing their appearance in team meetings, talking to peers or employees who work for them, or even asking them directly.

(M) Meaningful Communication

This is true for everything you do to become an executive, but it is even more important when you engage with key stakeholders. Learn to communicate clearly and consistently and tailor your message to match your audience’s needs.

How? Share your proposals from their point of view. Ask yourself: what is in it for them?

(P) Political Awareness

If you want to leverage politics to your advantage, you’ll need to stay informed, keep up with informal networks and office dynamics, be in the know, and have access to strategic information.

➤ Regularly touch base with colleagues, peers, and senior leaders.

➤ Read earning reports and company quarterly reviews

➤ Observe power plays and who gets support

➤ Ask your manager for updates from the top

(L) Leverage as a two-way street

Leverage doesn’t mean taking advantage of others. It’s about balancing providing value and getting what you want.

With the information you collected about your stakeholders and your knowledge of the political environment, you should be able to identify points of leverage.

Opportunities to solve a painful problem that is keeping them up at night

Opportunities to tie your initiative or project to their goals

Opportunities to identify their hot buttons (what rubs them the wrong way)

These opportunities can be invisible until you notice the people and the dynamics.

(E) Ethical Engagement

I’ve been watching reruns of Suits, so my ethical compass is slightly off now.

In general, avoid gossip, backstabbing, dishonesty, and crossing lines. Always consider the impact of your actions on your future reputation.

Your goal is to build trust, not create enemies.

Your next steps

There is no way around it, friend. To become an executive, you need to overcome your fear of playing politics and turn it into a superpower.

Realize that politics is a career accelerator when done right. It will help you build trust and rapport and position you as a strategic leader.

Use these six guidelines to understand office dynamics and develop a strategic plan to leverage politics for career growth.

I believe in you, and I’m rooting for you.

Maya ❤️


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