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Office Politics – Should I leverage it to further my career?

leverage office politicsEarly in my career, I have been burnt by office politics but not in the way you think.  I didn’t feel burnt because someone else sabotaged my job.  On the contrary, I concluded, I burnt myself because I didn’t understand or appreciate office politics and the importance of using it fairly and skillfully to protect and build my career advantage.

So my answer is: Yes, you should leverage office politics to further your career as long as it is not intentionally at the expense of others’ careers. Office politics usually conveys a negative connotation in pop culture.  However, I believe whenever there is a company with three or more employees, office politics exists.  If you don’t understand how to work with it and others do, you can potentially be at a disadvantage in your career.

In Wikipedia, “office politics” is defined as “the use of one’s individual or assigned power within an employing organization for the purpose of obtaining advantages beyond one’s legitimate authority.”

I don’t agree for two reasons

  1. It implies unfair advantage at all times but I think office politics will exist even if no one in the office is intentionally trying to manipulate.  This is because each person in the office is a human being with aspirations, insecurities, power of influence, power of position, and personal perspective about others’ ability and contribution in the office.  Interaction between people will naturally create politics and fair office politics can exist.
  2. Your role in playing office politics is to influence those in positions of power/influence over your career to perceive favorably about your work and contribution.   This is a legitimate and valuable job skill.  Afterall, perception is reality.  You can further your career using this skill because not everyone understand office politics and knows how to best portray their work and contributions at the right time to the right people.  (stay tuned for a future newsletter article on How to deal with office politics?)

What gives office politics the negative connotation is because we only think of examples of those who play unfair office politics – someone who tries to sabotage other’s careers at the same time furthering their own.  I would re-define office politics in 3 bullets

  • “office politics” should be defined as “the use of one’s individual influence skills within an employing organization to protect or obtain advantage in their career.”
  • “fair office politics” by adding to the core definition “without intentionally sabotaging others’ jobs / careers”
  • “unfair office politics” by adding to the core definition “at the expense of others’ careers”

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Your comments: What do you think? I look forward to your comments!  Good luck on your job.  I am always in your corner!


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Mentoring Model – Mutual Mentorship or Paying it Forward?

Yesterday, one of my friend sent me this article written by Steve Blank about  Mentors, Teachers, and Coaches.   I wanted to shared it with you to get your perspective.  Steve makes great distinctions about the difference between mentors vs. teachers vs. coaches.   I completely agree with this.  He says

  • Teachers, coaches and mentors are each something different.
  • If you want to learn a specific subject find a teacher.
  • If you want to hone specific skills or reach an exact goal hire a coach.
  • If you want to get smarter and better over your career find someone who cares about you enough to be a mentor.

In the article, he also went on to define what has to exist for a mentoring relationship to form.  This is where I disagreed.  In this article, Steve Blank wrote “what made these relationships a mentorship is this: I was giving as good as I was getting. While I was learning from them – and their years of experience and expertise – what I was giving back to them was equally important. I was bringing fresh insights to their data. It wasn’t that I was just more up to date on the current technology, markets or trends, it was that I was able to recognize patterns and bring new perspectives to what these very smart people already knew. In hindsight, mentorship is a synergistic relationship.

I do believe both mentor and mentee/protege get something out of the relationship, but I don’t believe it has to be  mutual mentorship as Steve describes.   A mentor provides help to someone who values his/her experience and perspective .  What is absolutely needed for a mentoring relationship to form are personal rapport,  mutual inspiration (mentor is inspired by mentee’s potential and passion and mentee is inspired by mentor’s experience and wisdom), and a mutual agreement to enter into this kind of relationship.   The type of mentoring relationship Steve describes is just one kind.

I think of Mentoring most of the time is a “Pay it Forward” model.  I was lucky and still am to be mentored by great people who helped me learn from their mistakes and guide me in life or work.    I also “pay it forward” by mentoring other  folks that have passion and potential and wants my help.  Do I also learn from my mentees?  Absolutely, but it’s not why I agreed to be their mentor.  Ultimately I think personal rapport and mutual respect are what’s critical to make a mentoring relationship work.

In the article, Steve also talks about a person who asked him during one of his talks, “How do I get you, or someone like you to become my mentor?”  Steve’s response was  “At least for me, becoming someone’s mentor means a two-way relationship. A mentorship is a back and forth dialog – it’s as much about giving as it is about getting. It’s a much higher-level conversation than just teaching. Think about what can we learn together?  How much are you going to bring to the relationship?

I think Steve also couldn’t easily agree to be a mentor because that person didn’t know how to ask Steve to be a mentor.  They have no rapport with Steve and the person didn’t know how to express why Steve would be a great mentor for him and inspire Steve to care.   Asking someone and the process of building a mentoring relationship is an art in itself.    For tips on how to ask someone to be your mentor, refer to How to Ask Someone to be Your Mentor?

So be sure to find great mentors for yourself as well as pay it forward and take opportunity to mentor others.  What do you think?  I would love to hear your comments.

I am in your corner.


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Work for Free – Who Should do it and Why?

I came across this question on Quora – Should anyone work for free for good exposure and at what stage do you stop doing free, but awesome work? 1. Should anyone work for free? Yes, everyone should at least consider to work for free as an option.  I think it’s important to realize that wasting time also…

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Who Do You Model Yourself After?

I model myself after many people.   This is because even the best role models will disappoint in one area or another and in fact I think it’s expecting too much when you model only after one person. Instead, I think it’s important to have a board of advisors – chosing 5 to 8 people…

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