The Politics of Promotion

"Workplaces are highly political environments where decisions about who gets ahead, who gets more compensation, and who gets access to scarce resources are not based on performance alone. Our naïve assumption that our performance will guarantee a successful career is a dangerous one. This assumption results in thousands of women being blindsided. And it happens every day."

- The Politics of Promotion, page xi

Bonnie Marcus, author of The Politics of Promotion: How High-Achieving Women Get Ahead and Stay Ahead and a former senior executive, has firsthand experience of what being blindsided feels like. That incident was a wake-up call for her and she has since become very politically savvy. To help other women achieve the same, she has written this book and shares with us the “tools” needed for success in this arena; these include:

  1. The “Mirror,” your tool to recognize your unique value proposition and to promote yourself;
  2. The “Magnifying Glass,” your tool to observe and learn all the written and unwritten rules of your company;
  3. The “Pass Go and Collect $200 Card,” your tool to improve your strategic networking;
  4. The “Get Out of Jail Card,” your tool to find and get a sponsor who will help promote you;
  5. The “GPS,” your tool to determine what type of executive coach you need and how to find one.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Promotion Is a Leadership Skill

"If you are waiting for someone to promote you, you are wasting your time. It is essential to build your reputation across the organization. You need to promote yourself. You need to promote your team."
- The Politics of Promotion, page 41

Like many of the women Bonnie discusses, I too considered “politics” to be the equivalent of a four letter word. Only in recent years have I come to recognize how important it is, and that it not only helps you get ahead, but that it also can be used for the benefit of your team.

As Bonnie points out, self-promotion and being politically savvy are leadership skills and need to be recognized as such. How else can a leader advocate for her team unless she is comfortable promoting her value and that of her team’s, and has the appropriate relationships and influence to be heard. All of this requires political savviness.

And all of this starts by recognizing your—and your team’s—unique value proposition. In other words, what value do you and only you provide? Knowing this and being able to articulate it will help you network, attract sponsors, and get political influence.

Bonnie gives an example of a COO who had a difficult relationship with her CEO until she realized that her ability to provide him detailed information helped him make decisions more quickly. Once she recognized this and started giving him status reports from this perspective, he appreciated her and her value to him much more, and their relationship improved drastically.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Establish an Affirming Mindset

"A daily practice of journaling your successes can actually change your brain chemistry. It is possible to create new neural pathways that will reset your default thinking to be positive and self-affirming. "
- The Politics of Promotion, page 65

So you recognize that to become a leader, you have to promote yourself and your team. You even know your unique value proposition and its importance, but do you have the self-confidence to own it and share it? Or like many women, do you often doubt yourself?

Bonnie shares what bestselling author Marci Shimoff explained during a guest interview. She called our mindset “Teflon” when it comes to praises—they won’t stick—but “Velcro” when it comes to self-doubt.

How do we change this? Bonnie recommends keeping a daily journal of your successes. Not only can the act of writing them down help you become more positive, but when you review them at the end of the week and see the pattern of your accomplishments, it will make it easier to own it—and to promote it to others in your company.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Network Strategically

"To network effectively, you need to move out of your comfort zone and identify people who can help your career, not just those people you like. Strategic networking is more than socializing and swapping business cards: it’s creating solid relationships inside and outside the company to support your career aspirations. It takes focus and intention to build such a network, but it’s invaluable for your professional development."
- The Politics of Promotion, page 107

Unlike socializing, strategic networking is all about political influence. As Bonnie explains, many women look for mentors and sponsors in those they respect and want to emulate, but these people don’t always have enough power to help them (or their teams). Instead, you should try to establish an open network and look for people who can help you professionally.

And since networking needs to be reciprocal, this is where knowing your unique value proposition and having the confidence to promote it will help. The same goes for acquiring a sponsor, something few women have but can make all the difference in getting ahead. Unlike a mentor who just advises, sponsors actually use their own political capital to help you advance. They do so because they believe in you and by aligning themselves with you, expect to broaden their network, influence, or access to information.

Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, whether you enjoy socializing or not, becoming more politically willing and savvy is essential to getting ahead professionally. It is not enough to just do well and work hard, you need to be sure that the right people know of your successes. You also then need to familiarize yourself with the unwritten rules of your culture and company, with who are the decision makers and influencers, and with who you need to connect with to get ahead. All this starts with being willing and just paying attention.

And although “politics” are necessary, they should not be perceived as negative or manipulative. To be a leader you need political influence and you can only get it by ensuring the right people are aware of what you and your team have to offer, which will lead to further resources, recognition, and opportunity for both you and them. From this perspective, politics can be viewed as a means to advocate for your team to ensure their success.

There’s also nothing wrong with advocating for yourself since unless you have a sponsor, who else will?

Do you consider yourself politically savvy? If not, what one action can you take right now to become more politically willing and savvy?

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Karina Mikhli

ABOUT Karina Mikhli

Although I've spent most of my career on the operations side of publishing, an industry I'm still fortunate to be working in, I've also been a teacher and personal trainer in what feels like previous lives...
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