Editor’s Note: The University of Utah’s MBA programs are dedicated to empowering female business professionals through education, collaboration and community. Learn more about what our MBA can do for you. Attend the Women’s Information Brunch at the Little America on Saturday, May 20 from 10 to 11:30 a.m. More details and registration are available at www.WomenMBA.com.
Over a multi-year period, Jill Flynn, Kathryn Heath and Mary Davis Holt, three nationally recognized experts on women’s leadership, examined the 360-degree performance reviews of hundreds of managers in Fortune 500 companies. Part of what they discovered is that men are much more likely to report that they are skilled at office politics, whereas women say they want to avoid it at all costs.
Every professional will experience the impact of politics in the workplace during the course of their career. Personality clashes. Tough conversations. Competing agendas. Even turf wars. Is it possible to navigate tricky situations successfully? And can it be done without compromising personal values?
Turns out there is such a thing as cultivating a political strategy that feels authentic and comfortable to you.
Meet three of our University of Utah David Eccles School of Business MBA students and alumni: Jill McAree, Executive MBA Class of 2017; Shan Shan Li, Professional MBA Class of 2014; and Maria Lowry, Professional MBA Class of 2017. These women have shared their experiences and advice surrounding four effective strategies for success.
Think of office politics as “organizational savvy.”
The reality is that companies are, by nature, political organizations, which means that if you want to survive and thrive at work, you can’t just sit out on the sidelines. Professional MBA alumnus Shan Shan Li, director of acquisition at PillPack, explains the necessity of participation in this way: “Unfortunately, no matter what company you’re at, there is always some level of politics, and you have to learn to be emotionally intelligent and navigate the landscape you’re on.”
Think hard work alone can act as proxy for political participation? Think again. Current Executive MBA student, Jill McAree, director of new accounts at Discover Financial Services, has 18 years of work experience in the financial sector and explains that “While there is nothing that can replace hard work, you also need an understanding of the organizational politics that are at work in your firm.”
Build strong relationships across your organization.
So how does one take actionable steps towards building their organizational cred? McAree says women need to understand who the power players are and build strong relationships across their organizations. Though it can be time-consuming and not always convenient to focus on relationship building, creating genuine connections with the people you interact with daily is of vital importance. The key trait to develop during this process? “Openness,” McAree says. “I actively gather feedback, I listen to the problems the team is facing, and I ask for ideas to improve. This opens the door to trusting relationships, vulnerability, genuine happiness in the success of others, and a faster path to success.”
Shan learned the importance of positive professional relationships during her experiences working in five different professional roles before the age of 30: “I’ve run into the same coworkers across multiple companies. You’ll likely end up in the same place as someone you used to work with. Stay consistent because the reputation you build for yourself upfront will follow you forever. Treat your colleagues with respect, be a mentor, help inspire and lead, it will automatically lift you to the top while still maintaining your likability with your colleagues.”
Get more comfortable with communicating your value.
Maria Lowry, current Professional MBA student and client manager at Cambeo, recounts the biggest challenge she faced early in her career: “I felt I was unqualified for my job and told myself that any ideas or thoughts I had were illegitimate. In these situations, I saw men take the opportunity to get the ear of the boss, make a name for themselves, and come out the other side more confident than ever.”
What is the most effective way to combat “imposter syndrome” and more effectively communicate your value to your organization? It can be as simple as tweaking how and when you say things, and eliminating small behaviors that aren’t serving your career. For some, it may mean learning techniques for asserting themselves in meetings and other high-visibility situations, when they’d otherwise shrink. For others, it may mean breaking the habit of repeatedly taking on low-visibility, low-value projects. In others, it may mean learning to choose work battles more judiciously.
Lowry offers two pieces of advice to increase confidence: “You got the job. You’re obviously qualified. Now get to work,” and “Get a mentor — one who has seen people succeed and seen people fail and can discern the little traits that set success and failure on that track. They’re the ones whose opinions you can trust and rely on when yours are overly doubtful.”
When you empower others, you win.
Could another name for successful, ethical office politicking simply be the art of influencing others in a positive way that benefits all parties? In other words, could winning at office politics really just mean claiming your right to guide and inspire others? Li explains that “When you empower others, you win. You create real relationships that last, your network and support systems strengthen and more opportunities come your way. There is enough opportunity and good for everyone — be generous and open to opportunity and what goes around will come around.”
Lowry explains the importance of expanding your political reach and influence through empowering others in this way: “The female leaders I admire most aren’t famous — they are the ones I consider models of balanced leadership. My first boss after graduating from college cared deeply about bringing out the very best in everyone around her. She was the best empowerment tool I am likely to have in my career.”