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Have you been blindsided by politics?

person sitting with hands held together

A few months ago, I attended the National Association of Female Executive Women's Leadership Summit and had the privilege of hearing keynote speaker Bonnie Marcus, leadership coach and author of The Politics of Promotion: How High Achieving Women Get Ahead and Stay Ahead.

Marcus kicked off her talk with a personal story of being blindsided when she did not get a promotion she deserved. She was certain she was going to be promoted. She knew her job inside and out, and was the go-to person for all issues.

But her boss didn’t promote her. In fact, her boss hired someone externally for the role. She was shocked — and completely blindsided. But thinking back on the experience, Marcus realized she was not politically savvy and didn’t play the game.

What is political savviness? According to Marcus, it is first, paying attention and observing who has the power and influence. And second, building strategic relationships with people who can help you get access to information and resources.

Getting promoted required much more than doing your best and hoping to be recognized. Consider these three questions:

Is the game rigged? Men hold most power positions and feel more comfortable promoting other men. Business rewards the “ideal worker,” someone who can work 60 hours a week and hop on a plane at a moment’s notice. That can be difficult for women who are raising children. 

Do I choose not to play? Marcus believes the primary reason most women do not play is because they lack self-confidence to self-promote. Women aren’t comfortable talking about their skills and accomplishments. Many high-achieving women suffer from imposter syndrome, the inability to internalize accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud. 

Do I know how to play the game?Academic success achieved through hard work doesn’t equal success in the workplace. The go-to person is not always seen as the leader. The doer often doesn’t get promoted.

Marcus developed a toolkit for playing the political game that includes these five items:

A mirror that reminds you to focus on the value you bring to the organization. Figure out your value proposition and how to communicate it.

A magnifying glass that allows you to focus on what is going on around you. What are the unwritten rules in your office? What is rewarded? Who has the power? Be aware, go to lunch with a coworker and power players. Don’t keep your head buried in the details.

A “Pass Go” card that will help you build a strategic network of key players who will help you reach your goal. Figure out who you need to know to get what you want. Develop those relationships.

A “Get Out of Jail” card that will help you identify who is willing to take action on your behalf. Who believes in you and your value prop? Who is willing to speak up on your strengths when you are not present? Who could be your sponsor?

A GPS navigator in the form of a mentor or executive coach who will help you navigate the workplace. We all need someone who is objective and observant who can act as a sounding board.

Answer these questions and use these tools and you won’t get blindsided at work again.

Julie Janckila is director of corporate partnerships for the Network of Executive Women, the largest women’s leadership organization serving the retail and consumer goods industry.

Views expressed in blogs, posts and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and corporate partners.