I have to admit that I am an avid Survivor fan – the television program where contestants try to “outwit, outplay, and outlast their competitors”. They spend a lot of time talking about “playing the game”. Called strategy, gamesmanship, or politics, playing the game conjures up scary images and even scarier memories for some of us. What I find interesting on Survivor is that most of the contestants have no idea how to play the game. You get to watch individuals going about their day thinking they are in control of their existence on the island, when in reality, they are probably the next person to be voted off.
They are like many of us who need to learn how to stay in the game, get a place at the table, play ball, and other clichéd descriptions of being political. What do we need to learn to be part of the Final Four and ultimately the Survivor? Recent articles on CIO.com and BNet.com provide some answers to that question.
How to Build Your Credibility and Increase Your Political Power, an article on CIO.com, written by Patty Azzarello, addresses the issue from a CIO perspective. While we aren’t all CIOs, the article does put forth some ideas we could all benefit from. They are:
Credibility and political power go hand in hand.
Political power does not come from technology, it comes only from relationships.
CIOs can build their credibility and political power by focusing on two fundamental actions: managing what you are known for and building a communication plan for your stakeholders.
You can substitute whatever your area of expertise is for technology in the second sentence and find what you know will never be as important as who you know. Sad but true. Yet, while this last statement seems negative, it is what it is, so, we are better off doing something about it than wishing it wasn’t so.
How to Win at Office Politics, an article on BNet.com, written by Kelly Pate Dwyer, offers advise that is a bit more practical. Ms. Dwyer breaks what we can do into 5 steps, providing sidebars with useful information. The five steps are:
- Figure out Why (and IF) You Want to Play – Let what’s most important to you guide your actions.
- Create Strong Relationships – Build the personal network you need to reach your goals.
- Observe & Listen – Gain the insight to predict and avoid roadblocks, and take advantage of scoring opportunities.
- Promote Yourself, Tactfully – Make yourself visible and indispensable.
- Help your Colleagues – Gain respect and leverage, and get help in return.
The focal point of both articles is the need to build relationships. How, you ask? There are many articles and books on the topic. The book Relationship Edge in Business: Connecting With Customers and Colleagues When It Counts by Jerry Acuff provides a how to on building and maintaining business relationships.
I can tell you that developing these skills is not easy for those of us who are introverted, and, while extroverts may find it a bit easer to develop the relationships needed to be successful, it is still difficult work. They are essential, however, and worth the work. Besides the articles and book listed above, additional books that may be useful are:
Influence Without Authority, written by Allen R Cohen and David L Bradford, 2nd edition, 2005.
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, written by Robert B Cialdini, 2006.
I’m not suggesting you adopt the Machiavellian viewpoint of “the ends justify the means” using any means to stay in power and build support (which, by the way, is not as Machiavellian as it sounds, but that is another post.) I do believe, however, that we need to be strategic in our work to stay on the island.