It is an unhelpful but sacred wisdom of our age, that we live in a meritocracy, or at the least that we should do: that technical ability, hard work and intelligence enable career success. I hear this all the time from hard-working women and while I wish that was the case, the reality is that huge surveys of all the evidence show conventional measures of intelligence are poor predictors of who will succeed. In fact, according to GR Ferris’ book ‘Political Skill at Work: Impact on work effectiveness’ those ‘feel good ‘ factors may explain just 25% of a person’s career success. Yes of course, being hard working and clever helps, but the stark reality is that office political skill is much more important.
According to the newly published Oliver James book ‘Office Politics’, research has identified four key components of office political skill: astuteness, effectiveness, networking, appearance of sincerity. While I personally love the term ‘appearance of sincerity’, the truth is there is nothing wrong with office politics, we just need to be more self-aware of how you use it. And recognise none of us is above it. In fact, you are only lying to yourself if you think you don’t use it, as 1 in 5 communications we have with others contains a white lie.
That is not to say you have to become disloyal, difficult or demanding. Rather this is about being aware of the game being played all around you – and that you are part of it whether you like it or not. Simply being savvy as to when and how to play is key for successful women, particularly in negotiating structures that were never created for our benefit. So what does that look like? You could say, the building blocks to any career: assertiveness, self-promotion, feedback-seeking, negotiations, networking and reputation-building.
When I have worked with groups of professional women, self-promotion has been a particular sticking point for many. However, if we redefine it as the ability to show your colleagues your competence rather than waiting for them to figure it out, it’s often easier to swallow. Rather than wait to be noticed, here are three ways to draw attention to your good work:
- Thank a client by email for positive feedback they gave you verbally and copy in your boss, so they can see you are valued by clients. Then talk with your boss about the scope to grow the client relationship.
- Praise a colleague you think is doing a good job, and highlight how their work made it easier for the whole team to achieve a particular goal. Again, mention it to your boss or copy them in.
- Update your LinkedIn status with non-confidential information on a particular project you are working on. This is useful for people who read their updates, but with whom you haven’t been in touch in a while.