News & Insight
February 2003

Women in Management: Playing Politics to Win

One of the skills that successful leaders develop early in their careers is the ability to win at corporate politics.

Corporate politics seem to come naturally to men. Women, on the other hand, instinctively shun this contest for power, but need to realize that it exists and learn to use it to their advantage.

Corporate America is a lumbering giant that moves slowly and operates with flawed management systems. Power is the way things get done in corporations. It's how individuals further their agendas, develop their products, implement their plans, and, ultimately, advance their careers.

Power comes from establishing relationships with people in key positions around the organization -- peers, subordinates, superiors, board members, and even outsiders with clout - who can help individuals advance their agendas and ensure their upward progress.

How can women in management become more adept at this aspect of their careers?

  • Map the Power. Most corporations have formal organization charts, but none have "political" organization charts, which show how holders of power are interrelated. You have to create that particular chart yourself by "mapping the power." Identify the players in your organization and develop a plan to get to know them. And don't overlook "gatekeepers" like administrative assistants. Oftentimes, they can open doors to the powerbrokers.
  • Do Unto Others. Within your corporate organization, you will win people's support by persuading them that your self-interest and theirs are strategically allied. Answering people's needs and wants is a good way to create a strong following. Best of all is when you can persuade others that you can help them advance both their personal and professional agendas. Give people credit. Compliment them publicly. Let others know how you value their work. And in return? It is understood that some day, they will do the same for you.
  • Run Your Campaign. No matter what your job description, you are always running for your next office - and looking for votes. Your internal power base is a starting point, but you need to extend your campaign outside your corporation. Join an appropriate professional organization, become part of your community's business circle, volunteer to work on a charitable event (and offer to run it next year). You never know who is observing you demonstrate your professional capabilities and leadership - and who will offer you your next job.

Follow these steps, and you will become a better player at the game of corporate politics.

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