All organizations are political. To be successful as a lawyer—in a law firm, legal department, government agency or non-profit—you need to understand and effectively navigate your workplace’s political environment. Opting out is not an option. You must be politically savvy. Here are some steps that you can take immediately to be politically informed, astute and strategic. Managing office politics is not easy, but it can be done.
Forge strong relationships—up, down, and across.
Developing supportive, strategic and influential relationships is as, if not more critical, to career success as working hard and doing a good job. To effectively navigate office politics, it is essential to build a strong network of internal and external relationships and alliances with people “up, down and across”– formal and informal mentors, sponsors, peers and colleagues.
Understand written and unwritten rules.
Information is power. In addition to “whom you know,” there is an often-overlooked “what.” The “what” you need to know to successfully navigate office politics includes the written and unwritten rules that govern critical processes and decisions that impact your career. Unwritten rules often define what is really expected of you and what is really valued. They may also govern how to really get important assignments to significant teams and projects. To succeed, you need to know them. Your mentor, sponsor, champion, and even peers can help.
Identify and manage your stakeholders.
Understanding who has influence over and interest in your career and organization, i.e., your stakeholders, is also essential to being politically savvy. It may be important, for example, to identify who can (or must) help you advance. Conversely, it is crucial to know who can really hurt your career. Your professional relationships can again be invaluable in guiding you this regard.
Know your organization’s strategy and goals.
To navigate your organization’s political environment, it is critical to understand its strategic plan and goals (written and unwritten). Having such an understanding will help you better understand what is valued and where to focus and align your efforts. Not all organizations share their plans beyond the senior level. Identifying someone with access to the plan with whom you have a relationship and asking them to share it with you can be quite valuable.
Create your individual strategic career plan.
Having a strategic career plan with a vision and annual SMART goals and action steps is central to your professional growth. Having such a roadmap also helps you navigate office politics. With a strong vision and specific goals in mind, you can be politically savvy in developing relationships, identifying written and unwritten rules, and in your choices. Be prepared to rebound resiliently to career bumps.
Pick your battles when managing office politics.
Being politically savvy requires that you pick your battles strategically. Not all battles are created equal. Knowing your end-game as well as who has influence and power will enable you to determine which battles to fight, which landmines to avoid and when to simply keep your head down. And because it is a very small world, being politically savvy means trying to resolve conflict in a way that preserves relationships whenever possible.
Practice empathy and listen actively to advance mutual interests.
To effectively navigate office politics, be attuned to the needs, concerns and interests of others. Practicing “empathy”—stepping into the shoes of others—and listening actively are essential skills. They allow you to influence others by identifying common interests and creating buy-in for mutually beneficial actions that advance your goals and those of others.
Manage your emotions.
Finally, be self-aware and self-manage. To successfully navigate office politics, understand your “hot buttons” and how to carefully manage them.
So don’t hesitate. Jump in and navigate the muddy waters of office politics strategically. If you would like a guide, the Attorney Talent Strategy Group would be delighted to work with you. We can be reached at www.atalentstrategy.com or contact Lisa directly at email@example.com.
*Lisa B. Horowitz, JD, MSOD, is the Founder and Principal Strategist of the Attorney Talent Strategy Group, LLC. Drawing on her career as a practicing attorney, senior talent development professional and entrepreneur, Lisa currently coaches and trains attorneys on strategically advancing their careers including developing critical leadership and management skills. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.