Skill Level Intermediate
- Here's a formula for success that might surprise you. Your continued success at work is a function of your past achievements, your general likability, your friends at work, and your political skills. You'll notice I didn't include IQ in the formula. That's not to say IQ isn't important. General cognitive ability has long been known to be a key success factor at work. But, not as much when you get into the leadership ranks. Think about it. The higher you go in the hierarchy, the more everyone tends to be bright.
Sure, there is some variability, but the higher you go, the less variability you see. So, let's think about these components. First is achievement. By that, I mean your education, all of your work skills, and all of you work accomplishments. Achievement very often gives you momentum which makes your next success even more likely, because it predisposes others to view you and treat you favorably. Then there's likability. Whether you agree with it or not, success at work isn't about a meritocracy where everyone is perfectly rewarded based on the quality of their performance.
There are factors, other than your professional performance, that factor in significantly to your success. Being likable is one of the biggest. If you were born with a likable personality, or if you learned how to engage certain behaviors, such as helping behaviors, you can become more likable, and, when you're likable, people want you involved. Next, are your friends. At work, people usually find others with whom they naturally fit, people with whom they develop natural friendships.
Again, it might not be meritorious, but you can sure bet that friends often look out for friends. That's why many people say, "It's not about what you know, "it's about who you know." Now, please hear me carefully. Your ability is what matters most. I'm simply sharing other variables that add to or take away from the potential your ability affords you. Finally, we have political skills. This involves your ability to make new connections, understanding coalitions, and use political information when making decisions.
This is by far, the most misunderstood and neglected of all the success factors we've mentioned. That's really unfortunate, but how it got this way, is pretty well known. The first reason is all about our education system. In the US and most other countries, we simply don't spend much time, at all, teaching young students about the people-related skills that will make or break their careers later on. As a direct result, men and women at work want to believe that resources are distributed purely based on merit, when, of course, there are all kinds of interpersonal dynamics at play.
The final reason is that people often think political behaviors are somehow negative, or in the extreme, unethical. This is not true. You know how they say, "A few bad apples ruin the bunch." That's what happen to politics at work. A few honestly unpleasant or unethical people have tarnished otherwise normal and useful behaviors. I know that many of you wish you worked in a pure meritocracy, but you don't. Even in truly high performing work places, you only approximate a meritocracy.
There are still relationship-based political behaviors that affect most outcomes. Now here's the good news. Politics is not a dirty word. Success at work is about understanding the dynamics of decisions and the interactions of the people who surround you every bit as much understanding the work processes and tools you use every day. It's about politics and building your strategic thinking skills, and skills are things you can learn. So, let's get started.