Friday, October 5, 2012

GHC12: Leadership Workshop: Office Politics for People Who Don’t Like Politics

I always love every single Jo Miller, Women's Leadership Coaching, workshop so was so thrilled when I heard she was coming back to Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing again this year!

The emerging leader's quandary: How do you get to that higher level position that requires more leadership experience than you have - but you can't get the leadership experience without the position?  A challenging question many of us have faced in the past - not just with leadership, either! Jo hopes to give us all skills that will help us become better leaders without necessarily leading a team.

Office politics - nobody likes playing this game, at least nobody in this room. But, would you be willing to join the game if it will get you the promotions and projects that you want to work on?  Could this be a skill, and not just an annoyance. "avoiding (office) politics altogether can be deadly for your career" - Erin Burt

Jo proposes that there is a way to navigate office politics in a way that is both ethical and advantageous for your teams.

Hard work alone won't get you recognized. So, work less :-)  Not exactly, but if you're always so heads down with working and never letting anyone know what you're doing.

"Get out of your in-box!" - Barbara Gee.  Get out and talk to people! Step away from the terminal..

Lets stop calling it office politics - such negative connotations. What about Organizational Awareness?  What does that mean? Being a savvy observer of the communication and relationships that surround you in your organization.

This isn't just about looking at the org chart - it doesn't tell you everything, like, who are the thought leaders, who gets things done, who's been over-promoted and are actually ineffective?   You need to find people that can happily help you get things done - the Shadow Organization. This isn't what HR knows, it's what you know.

Jo had us put together a chart of those people that we work with most frequently, adding solid lines for people that work well together and dashed lines for those that don't work work well together, adding arrows to show how influence flows. Once that is all done, we drew circles around coalitions - people that work well together. Once this was all on paper, we could better think about things, like how did those coalitions form?  Is one person excluded from all coalitions and perhaps everything?  Doing this will help you to gain perspective on your team

The final piece of this shadow organization is the verticals: people who are getting mentored and sponsored by their manager and passing this up. Like a ladder.

Doing this myself, I realized that my "shadow organization" includes many people that are not in my direct org.

Highlights of the Shadow Organization:
  • Relationships
  • Influence
  • Coalitions
  • Key Influences
  • Verticals
After a group discussion, a couple of questions came up about people in their organizations who are separated from everyone due to something they did many years ago. Jo recommended really focusing over the next few months on rebranding themselves - keeping all work and communications positive to help overcome past mistakes.

How can we gather information to help map the shadow organizations?  Can you do this via face-to-face interactions? What about virtual teams?  A few audience suggestions included organizing "friendship lunches" where you just reach out to people in your organization and field of influence on a casual basis, don't open your laptop in a meeting - connect instead, invite people to coffee (and see who else is having coffee together), and never miss a happy hour :-)  For virtual teams, site visits and video calls, even if just occasionally, should be done, in addition to talking on the phone.

Sophie Vandebroek, CTO of Xerox, once told Jo: "It's not enough to have a bright technical idea. I have seen too many projects led by great, passionate people fail because they tried to be the lone influencer." Can we have stronger teams and more successful projects by building more relationships and coalitions? It sounds like it!

Every organization and every team has unwritten, unspoken "Rules of the Game". It's unlikely that anyone is going to tell you about it - but you can probably ask.  For example, in some teams, no work should start until consensus is reached - while in others, act now and ask questions later is the rule. To be successful - learn these rules in your org.

There are five ways to generate quick wins in office politics:
  • In every organization, there is some who is great at navigating office politics - find them and ask them how they do it!
    • They navigate well at all levels
    • They are the keeper of the "institutional memory"
    • They are good at reading people
  •  Build and influential coalition
    • It can be quicker and easier to get great things done from the grass-roots
    • Be an advocate for others, support stuff that's important to them
  • Don't like the unwritten, unspoken "rules of the game" - become a game changer!
    • If you don't like them, you're probably not alone! This is where you can get those other like minded individuals to  help you to do so.
      • For example, you can't make the late night "happy hours" in bars because you have to pick up your kids, or have other obligations - can you create a new social event that happens during normal work hours?
  • Manage Upward
    • Leading your leaders is easier than you think... 
      • Think and act like an executive
      • Understand their most important goals, their challenges, and how they make decisions.
      • Remember - you're the expert in what you do, don't be deferential.
      • Always have a talking point ready
        • Executives have to make decisions quickly, be prepared to talk to them if you see them in the hall, in between meetings etc.
  • Enlist senior-level sponsors and adocates
    • These aren't mentors, but sponsors - someone that's going to promote and be an advocate for you. Someone who will argue your case behind closed doors.
 Again, sponsorship has come up. This seems to be so important. When looking for a sponsor, you want to find someone that is a senior leader with influence, well-respected and credible, familiar with your strengths, has a track record of developing talent, provides exposure and provides cover when you're under attack. Getting sponsors outside of your immediate organization is a good thing, too!

How do you get a sponsor? Turns out, you don't just go out and get one - you have to earn one, cultivate it. You can do this by outperforming, making your value visible, observe the protocols, and network across your organization. You can do a lot of these things by looking for projects and exposure opportunities working with or for senior leaders.

None of this will work, though, if you don't have clarity about your own career goals!  You have to know what you want to do or where you want to go, and make sure that these senior level people in your shadow organization are aware of those goals.

You can find the full slides on Jo's site.

This post syndicated from Thoughts on security, beer, theater and biking!

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