FountainBlue’s August 9 When She Speaks, Women in Leadership Series event, 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 wide range of perspectives on our panel, representing a variety of backgrounds and experience, a breadth of industries, geographies and roles, a range of approaches and strategies for addressing the topic. Our panelists shared their insights of the panelists, offered with poignant humor and candor. The conversation was a rich contrast between the leadership and competence and specific suggestions of our panelists, and the candid and humorous communication of advice and stories about what they did well, what they recommended, how they faced issues during their professional career, and why they made the choices they made.
To begin the conversation, the panel noted that politics involved competing interest groups or individuals for power, resources and influence.
There was the good politics, which makes people want to follow leaders of integrity and competence, who stand for the needs of all, the success of all, and facilitate collaborations so that all benefit. The good politics may rile you up, in a good way, and engage you to push your own limits, expand your thinking, manage your judgments, and passionately act with those-not-like-you to forge change for the greater good of all. Not all politics is bad, and good politics fosters positive change, making the whole greater than the sum of its parts.
There was the bad politics, where self-serving people in positions power put their own needs before that of others. This can get especially ugly when resources and influence are limited, as is the case in many tech companies. People can get pushed under the bus, maligned over miscommunications and misinterpretations of words and acts, and worse.
There was the ugly politics, which could just be amplified bad politics where someone is an unwitting victim, where the wrong people or strategy win influence and power and bring down people, teams and companies, where good politics with people of the best intentions go awry, when bad things happen to good people.
As such, our experienced panelists offer the following top ten kernels of wisdom about navigating politics in the workplace:
1. Accept that politics is a given – where there are people, there is politics, at work, at play, and especially in a corporate tech setting.
Our panelists were generally married with kids and a rich social life, and compared and contrasted politics in the workplace with that at home, noting that politics in the workplace was not innately aligned. With politics in the workplace, you don’t necessarily have the best interest of all in mind, you don’t have the same goals, or the desire to compromise. You don’t assume that you will stick things out, work together in the long run.
2. No matter the political circumstance, act with integrity and authenticity, and stand behind the values you hold dear, even if it means that you have to leave your current role, group, organization.
Our panelists have each done so in her own way, even when it meant leaving their colleagues, their project, their organization. Yet their actions and choices make them more valuable, more respected by their peers, and their words and actions have in the end, been integral to their learning and success.
3. Build a breadth and depth of relationships so that you can better navigate politics.
Our panelists agreed that building a strategic breadth and depth of relationships will help you navigate whatever the political waters may hold. They emphasized doing more the guy-thing, having many more lighter relationships with people you are willing to help, who are willing to help you on a professional level, to expand your network.
4. Core to building deep and broad relationships is understanding the motivations of others.
Our panelists emphasized that for any political challenge, you should identify all the stakeholders and what their motivations are for the positions they espouse. They suggest that we proactively manage the action-reaction cycle of relationships by listening, doing the right thing, and making people feel good about themselves. In addition, understanding and solving others’ problems will help build good will,
5. Communicating clearly and directly is essential to managing any situation, politically charged or otherwise.
Frame your objectives and intentions and communicate them based on your understanding of the motivations of the audience, to help support alignment and positive momentum.
6. Building a successful track record with a wide range of people, in a wide breadth of roles adds to your credibility, and helps you gets offers for and succeed in increasingly complex leadership roles.
Your track record will give you the credibility to try new and different things, so ensure that you can succinct tell the story of the problems your team faced, the solutions that worked and the quantifiable results that matter. Indeed, the best way to manage perceptions of you is to deliver tangible, measurable results consistently.
7. Stay centered and focused on doing the right thing for the right reasons, especially when it’s tough to do so.
Conflicts will arise, so focus on the data and issues, and try to diffuse the emotions, unless it’s constructive to the conversation. Know where your buttons are, where you might be hypersensitive and/or biased, and be open to new ways of thinking and doing things, even if it’s an idea offered by someone you don’t necessarily like.
8. Be proactive and strategic when handling with politically-charged situations.
Sometimes making a stand for the little things means that the bigger conflicts won’t happen. Sometimes thinking strategically will help anticipate and manage a situation before it becomes counter-productive. Sometimes thinking and acting strategically will get the right people involved and engaged. Have the confidence to speak up and lead.
9. Don’t expect perfection from yourself or from others.
Accept and expect best efforts, and don’t be disappointed with yourself for making the wrong decision, looking bad, inadvertently saying or doing the wrong thing. Mistakes give you an opportunity to learn, grow and do better. In the same token, don’t be too disappointed with your colleagues and their missteps.
10. Adopt a positive attitude – make it fun and interesting.
Your openness, frame of mind and your outlook will determine how effective you are in navigating politics in the workplace. So if and when things go south, try to give others the benefit of the doubt. Try to take the high road and learn from each encounter. It will help keep you positive, resilient, and ultimately successful.
In the end, it is clear that politics is inevitable, and can be handled to your advantage, and that of your group, product and company. Enjoy the journey, and support others in their journey.
- The Compromise Trap, Elizabeth Doty
- Men Are from Mars, Women Are From Venus, John Gray
- You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation by Deborah Tannen (Feb 6, 2007)
Please join us in thanking our speakers for taking the time to share their advice and thoughts for FountainBlue’s August 9 When She Speaks, Women in Leadership Series event was on the topic of Politics in the Workplace: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly:
Facilitator Pat Obuchowski, Chief Empowerment Officer, InVisionaria
Panelist Shubha Govil, Sr. Manager Product Management, Cisco
Panelist Carolyn Herzog, Vice President, Legal and Public Affairs (LPA), Symantec
Panelist Charlotte Tueckmantel, Director of Product Line Management, EFI
Panelist Kelly Vincent, Senior Director of Product Management, eBay
We would also like to thank our gracious hosts at Symantec.