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Great Leaders Embrace Office Politics

Source | Harvard Business Review : BY Michael Chang Wenderoth

A rising young executive found herself strategically ousted in an internal power play. Jill had all the chops to rise to the corner office: consistent top 10% performer, hardworking, intelligent, personable, driven, multilingual, an MBA from a top-tier school. Handwritten thank-you notes from the CEO proudly adorned her wall.

What happened?

When I met Jill (not her real name), she was struggling to make sense of her career setback.

“I was universally liked across the company, a team player who put in more hours than anyone else,” she said. “I was heads down on delivering results, shared my inner self and built trust…everything I was trained and even coached to do.”

With those words, I recognized what had happened immediately. Jill was one more victim of what I call the “Kumbaya” school of leadership, which says that being open, trusting, authentic, and positive — and working really hard — is the key to getting ahead. The Kumbaya school is doing the Jills of the world a great disservice, leading them to often act in ways that are detrimental to their careers.

What should Jill have done differently? Jill should have spent much more time managing up. She should have better managed decision makers, her boss, her image, and her own career.

Rather than being chained to her desk delivering great work, Jill should have been networking with the most influential executives, ensuring her contributions were noticed by those above her, and confirming that she was being perceived as executive-suite material. Managing a career in these ways is critical, but surprisingly few people do it.

The harsh reality is that organizations are hierarchies, and the social science bears out uncomfortable truths about politics and interpersonal relationships: We make initial snap judgments of people, often based on appearance, that can carry on over time; we favor those who are similar to us; we get promoted or gain valuable information by making our boss feel good and building relationships with influential people; we form perceptions based on a speaker’s appearance, body language, and voice more than the content of the argument; and we are more likely to be perceived as competent if we are judiciously critical or show anger (at least, men are). There is strong evidence that our work ratings, bonuses, and promotions are weakly correlated to actual performance — in fact, performance may even matter less to our success than our political skills and how we are perceived by those who make the decisions.

Read On…

 

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