Politics in the Workplace: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

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FountainBlue’s August 12 When She Speaks, Women in Leadership Series was on the topic of Politics in the Workplace: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Below are notes from the conversation.

We were fortunate to have a great panel of wise, experienced and successful women who were so open to poignantly sharing their hard-earned wisdom with humor and candor. They make a stand for women technology leaders, not just in appearing on panels like this, but in their day-to-day work and interactions, with every relationship, every conversation. They are self-aware, and ever in search of interactions, experiences and responsibilities which would stretch them in new directions.
As a group, they see politics as a necessary part of any organization, any group, just part of the landscape – inescapable and necessary. Ever practical, they see that politics is just about how decisions get made in an organization: the underlying, ever-moving web of relationships, accountability and influence. And each group, task, role would have different group dynamics. In fact, they see politics not just as necessary, but even as a positive tool, something which could be leveraged (in a good way) to career advancement, to deeper self-knowledge, to greater and wider recognition.
Below is advice offered by our panelists:
• You need to be strong enough in yourself – your own strengths and weaknesses, goals and desires, and aware enough about the people, relationships and motivations of the group around you to best leverage politics as a tool-for-good (for both you and for the organization and group).
• Don’t compare yourself to others, and don’t let others disempower, measure or limit you. Do learn from what works and doesn’t work for others, and do integrate the feedback others give to help you grow.
• Take an accurate measure of a new company or role and be honest with yourself about your fit within that role and culture. This will take a lot of thinking, a lot of analysis, a lot of reflection, but finding that right fit is worth the investment of energy and time.
• Really take notice when something catches you off-guard, from left field. Did you miss someone in the decision chain? Did you mis-understand a motivation? Did something change with the vision or strategy? How does this action affect you in the long-term and the short-term? Why did you miss seeing it coming, and what can you learn from it?
• Don’t see politics with negative connotations. Think of it as a tool for developing deeper relationships and more likely get things done.
• If you come across toxic people, try to see how they may not be aligned with you in terms of vision, goals, incentives, etc., and work with them directly to find a win-win.
• Don’t play politics, manage relationships.
• Managing politics is more about your instincts than about memorizing a playbook. Stay true to your value systems and trust your gut.
• Know your walking point – when you don’t think you and your team/organization can come to a comfortable alignment, have the confidence and courage to take action.
• Make your boss look good.
• Recruit mentors and a board of directors to help you navigate the politics. Surround yourself with people who will both help you feel confident *and* push you to the next level.
• Stay in alignment with your goals and your values by setting your limits about the amount of time you work and about the things you are willing to do.
• Advice for proving your value, especially in tense and politically-sensitive environments:
o Prove your measurable value.
o Rise above the emotions.
o When you *do* show emotion, be strategic about it. And use it sparingly.

The bottom line is that where there are people, there are politics. Accept and embrace this as it is essential to learn and grow and stretch your skills and your ability to navigate and manage relationships.

Resources:
• Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, Roger Fisher, William Ury http://www.amazon.com/Getting-Yes-Negotiating-Agreement-Without/dp/0140157352
• Now, Discover Your Strengths, Marcus Buckingham (Author), Donald O. Clifton (Author), http://www.amazon.com/Discover-Your-Strengths-Marcus-Buckingham/dp/0743201140
• 10 Ways You Shoot Yourself in the Foot in the Workplace, Nora Denzel, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGo9Kdf3WuE

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Thank you to the speakers for FountainBlue’s August 12 When She Speaks, Women in Leadership Series, on the topic of Politics in the Workplace: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly:
Facilitator Karen Mathews, Real Change Experts
Panelist Sandy Orlando, VP of Marketing, IP Infusion
Panelist Niamh Pellegrini, Vice President, Rhinology, Acclarent
Panelist Eileen Sullivan, Director of IT, Symantec
Panelist Margie Thomas, SR Director, Services GTM Operations, Cisco
Please join us in thanking our hosts at LifeScan for their support of this event and this series. Thank you also to our speakers for taking the time to share their advice and thoughts.

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