Psychotherapy and Training Collective of New York

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It's Not (Always) A Dirty Business

Here's why you need to get over your distaste for office politics

by Rosemary Lavinski

November, 2010

Do you believe that if you are good at what you do and work hard you will get ahead? Do you think making the boss look good is brownnosing? If so, you do not understand corporate politics. Like it or not, "being political" and knowing how to "play the game" are important skills that you must cultivate to get ahead.

Mark Williams, a health services technician in the United States Coast Guard (USCG), notes, "It is not enough to do a good job. Hard work alone does not lead to success. Lots of people think knowing your bosses and what they need and want is 'selling out.' I see it as being a team player and good networking. It is important to develop relationships with those in power and who are where you want to be. They can be good role models."

This attitude has helped Williams to become the first black person to win the leadership award for the Enlisted Person of the Year for the Northeast Region of the USCG -- and the only person to win it twice.

For many, "political" is a dirty word. In their book, Work Would Be Great if it Weren't for the People (Hyperion, $12.95), co-authors Ronna Lichtenburg and Gene Stone write, "All politics really boils down to is the play of human interactions at work that can make your job either easier or more difficult. Being a good office politician means that you know how to turn individual agendas into common goals."

Most people are clear about what they want their company to "give them." There are powerful economic forces today that encourage employers to gratify employees' needs. And there is clearly a labor shortage of competent professionals. Companies must now invest in keeping their employees satisfied. A key to developing political savvy in the office is presenting your needs in a way that appeals to the common goals of the company.

How do you determine the common goals of the company? "Always treat people above you as though they were your main client," detail Lichtenburg and Stone. "This involves recognizing strengths and weaknesses and helping bosses capitalize on strengths. Good sucking up requires work. You don't just throw compliments at everything in sight. Study your target."

You must be a bit of a sleuth to understand the political power structure of an organization. A good detective asks a lot of questions, knows how to establish rapport with members at all levels of an organization, and works to develop those relationships. By being a "good detective," you will better understand both the formal and informal structure of your organization. It will help you to determine where your boss and your department fit in the organization.

In your quest, don't neglect the importance of a broad-based skill set. "The most important question to ask yourself today is: How can I leverage my "intellectual capital" so that my skills are flexible and marketable in the global economy?" observes Jasmine Scott, former business consultant and trainer for Prudential. Having these skills and consistently performing in a way that exceeds expectations will certainly get you noticed. But without political savvy, you won't get very far.

Rosemary Lavinski, LCSW