It’s a familiar scenario. I get a phone call from a woman seeking advice because she’s tired of being overlooked and passed over for promotions. She feels stuck and powerless. Since I started my coaching practice in 2007, I’ve heard countless stories of frustration from professional women who have a strong work ethic and excellent performance and can’t figure out what more they need to do to get promoted.
“Why can’t I get ahead?”
“It must be the workplace culture.”
“It must be my manager who doesn’t advocate for me or know my value.”
“It must be gender bias; men are getting promoted faster.”
Certainly, there are many workplace obstacles for women and valid reasons to explain why women aren’t getting ahead.
But here’s the reality: We still haven’t accepted the fact that it takes more than our hard work and great performance to get promoted. It also takes political savvy.
The more we continue to believe in a meritocracy, the longer we will stay stuck. As much as we’d like to think that there’s a level playing field and everyone will be judged by the same standards, we have to face reality. We need to let that go of the old meritocracy myth. Relying on that belief only perpetuates our inability to advance.
So, what is political savvy and why does the very mention of politics cause us to disengage, when it’s in our best interests to engage?
Betsy Myers, former Director of the Center for Women and Business at Bentley and senior advisor to President Clinton on women’s issues, states that there are two parts to being politically savvy. “Being conscious of the world around me – who is in my corner and who’s not? And then being strategic about how to move the ball forward.”
Paying attention to the world around you; your workplace culture, the unwritten rules, as well as who has power and influence contributes to your political astuteness. Without this awareness, you are trying to advance your career in a vacuum thereby only increasing your chances of getting passed over. That’s the reality of career advancement. You need the great performance as well as the political will and skill.
Why don’t women engage in office politics?
I’ve heard many reasons when I interviewed women for my book.
“I don’t have time.”
“I think it’s manipulative.”
“It’s a waste of my time.”
“I am who I am and have a great deal of hard work behind me without playing games. (Seems like that was my downfall.)”
Yes, ignoring office politics could easily be the downfall of many ambitious woman.
I advise my clients that learning to be politically savvy is an important part of your job. Therefore, you make time to pay attention and understand the workplace dynamics and power structure. You make it your priority to figure out what it takes to get ahead where you work, within your department, with your manager, as a woman. Your willingness to accept the importance of workplace politics for your career advancement opens the door for you to learn how best to navigate the political landscape. It prepares you to learn the political skill necessary to thrive in your organization. Every organization has its own unique political environment. To succeed, you must know what that environment is.
The good news is that political savvy is a skill, not a trait. You can learn to be more politically astute over time with the use of keen observation and listening skills. What’s involved in learning this? I’ve identified four stages of development and in each of these stages there are specific characteristics and milestones to help you figure out where you are in this process and where you need to go to further develop your skills.
Stage One: Naïve Nancy
· Unaware of the rules of the game
· 100% work focused
· Learns through positive/negative experiences
Stage Two: Great Work Greta
· Reputation as competent
· Knows the importance of relationships
· Focuses on career development
· Limited networking
Stage Three: Strategic Sarah
· Learning delegation and management skills
· Builds strategic relationships
· Seeks mentors/sponsors/coach
· Talks about her accomplishments
Stage Four: Political Pam
· Uses personal influence
· Mentors others
· Maintains credibility/visibility
· Leads and inspires others
Where are you in terms of your political seasoning?
What stage best represents where you are now and what do you need to do to move to the next stage of political savvy?
To assess your political skill, I suggest looking at three key indicators.
This type of networking takes focus and intention. It starts with asking the question who do I know and who do I need to know to reach my career goal? A strong network includes key stakeholders, decision makers, as well as people who can open up doors for you and provide you with the information you need to do your job better. It should include allies and champions who can advocate for you when you’re not in the room.
Understanding your value proposition allows you to create the visibility and credibility you need to advance. You build influence by understanding how your work can help key stakeholders and the organization reach its objectives, and positioning yourself and your team as important players in the success of the company. You talk up your accomplishments as well as the positive results you and your team have achieved and you leverage those results by sharing them and offering to help others reach their business objectives.
Your political savvy tunes you into the way decisions are made as well as who holds power and influence in your organization. It also involves paying attention to the culture, the rules and unwritten rules. This information helps you to position yourself successfully without the risk of being blindsided by the politics.
In summary, if you are ambitious, if you want to move your career forward and you can’t figure out why you are continually passed over despite your excellent work, here’s a wake-up call.
Pay attention to the workplace dynamics, build a strong supportive network, and learn how to advocate for yourself and take credit for your accomplishments.
Don’t ignore the politics. Being politically savvy is part of your job.
My book, The Politics of Promotion: How High Achieving Women Get Ahead and Stay Ahead is now available as an audio book. Check it out to learn how best to navigate the complexities of your workplace to get the promotion you deserve.
To learn more about my caoching and speaking services check out my website, BonnieMarcusLeadership.com
*This article originally appeared on Forbes.com