Politics at Work: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

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FountainBlue’s August 14 When She Speaks, Women in Leadership Series event was on the topic of Politics at Work: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly and featured:
• Facilitator Bobbie LaPorte, RAL & Associates
• Panelist Mercedes De Luca, Global Customer Experience and Chief Information Officer at myShape.com, previously VP of Global IT at Yahoo!
• Panelist Lise E Edwards, Oracle Women’s Leadership (OWL), Program Manager, Oracle Human Resources
• Panelist Susan Lai, Senior Director, Finance, Symantec Corporation
• Panelists Eileen Sullivan, Group Director, Cadence

Below are notes from the conversation. These notes are copyrighted by FountainBlue in 2006-09 and all rights are reserved. You have our permission to forward the notes on to others, to help support further discussion and connections, but please ensure that the notes are INTACT, and that there is proper acknowledgement for our speakers and to FountainBlue.

About Politics
Let’s face it – office politics is a reality for everyone, regardless of the size of your organization or your position. But it’s good news that it’s a hot topic, and that people are more comfortable talking about it now than before, and supporting each other in addressing political challenges and understanding political nuances.

When asked to define politics, there was discussion about agendas and objectives and leveraging your personal influence and power, and that of others to build that agenda. The panelists concurred that at times there are unnecessary negative connotations around politics, so they advised that we know and accept that politics shapes their career and day-to-day work life.

However, there was also consensus that the WAY this is done will influence how others perceive you. There’s a difference between communicating transparently and building and leveraging relationships and achieving objectives no matter the cost to others.

Advice for Navigating the Political Waters in YOUR Organization
The panelists shared lessons learned about miscommunications and misunderstandings about intent, about motives, about objectives and emphasized the need to build relationships, ask questions, seek alignment, understand objectives, and work together in alignment to achieve shared corporate goals.

Repeatedly, the panelists emphasized the importance of building relationships with people at all levels, and the need to partner with people at many levels to make things happen. And a critical factor for developing relationships is clear and open communication, with an emphasis asking a lot of questions and reaching an understanding on motivations rather than working on assumptions and judgments.

There was an equal emphasize on understanding yourself, and your own passions and objectives, and maintaining relationships while staying true to yourself. Indeed, if you remain true to yourself, you will build your own brand and people will know what to expect when they work with you.

The panelists emphasized that it’s important to orient discussions around what’s right for the company and focus on facts and work, not taking actions and words personally.

Specific pearls of wisdom are listed below:
• Take the opportunity to interview with as many people as possible, to get to know the company and its people prior to starting there. Even after you land, dedicate some time to meeting with key influencers and develop those relationships.
• Don’t lose yourself, your own sense of style. Know when and where to compromise that style.
• In every situation, you have a choice. Be the person you want to be, or you may regret what you did.
• Even if you DO regret what you did, be truthful, forthright, humble in your communications with the people you hurt along the way.
• Decide whether which is the right battle for you at the right time.
• Don’t take sides.
• Don’t let it get personal.
• Seek to understand before being understood.
• Be clear to the people you’re working with.
• Ask for help.
• It can be tiring and lonely to constantly play political games.
• Network.
• Make your mistakes also your learnings.
• Men look at politics differently. They see it as a game, a competition, and they don’t take it personally.
• Not everyone has the best interest of all in mind. Handle closely those who don’t.
• Have the meeting before the meeting so that you can plan and align and avoid surprises.
• Spread your circle of influence.
• Lead with your passion.
• Be politically astute: pick up on things that are said and unsaid about a person, a group, an organization. Plan accordingly.
• Understand why someone you don’t respect might be valued by others, particularly if they are respected by others high up in the management chain.
• Rise above the bullying.
• Be self-aware while being other-centric.
• Be skilled at influencing up.
• Ask for what you want.
• Mentor others. Be a mentee.

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