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Navigating Office Politics: A Guide for Women Leaders 

Office politics is my favorite part of work, said no one ever. And if you are a woman, double or triple that. Women in leadership often shy away and avoid dealing with politics.

If you are like me, I didn’t get it right away. It took me some time and hard work to develop my ability to adapt to the changing office politics in my organization. I was naïve in thinking that my skills and abilities was all I needed to be seen, heard, and influential in my circles.

I wasn’t completely wrong, but I wasn’t totally right either. My skills and abilities are important, but so are the abilities to influence, communicate stand your ground, and ultimately deliver.

Not so easy to do when everyone else in the room is aiming for the same. Over time I developed my own recipe for navigating the day-to-day politics:

  • Keep your intentions pure and focused on the mission: While others may be angling for the spotlight or to look good in front of the top dog, use the power of your content, your insight and ideas towards the mission to drive your actions. You can always tell when someone is “sucking up”, and it’s never a good look.

  • Stay on higher ground: Michelle Obama popularized the phrase, “When they go low, we go high”. These words hold true to office politics, especially for women leaders. Keeping the high ground is our power. When the tone and tenor in the room goes south, be the voice that brings it back.

  • Hold your space: physically and intellectually: given the first two tips, it’s important to counter with Hold Your Space. By all means, do not disappear into the wallpaper. Make sure you are seen and heard, make sure you show up for yourself in those meetings. Speak your mind, contribute to the conversations, show curiosity as well as your position. Take your place at the table, and take your whole space. Many women sit in a smaller space or less conspicuous place. Keep yourself visible and in line of sight. There’s no room for wallflowers for women in business.

  • Don’t go it alone- have mentors, sponsors and confidants. Community is important for women leaders, especially in male-dominated settings. Get a sponsor- someone who believes in you. Mentors can help you debrief and prepare. Knowing your “friends in the room” can give you a confidence boost knowing someone has your back.

  • Learn how to read the room. The best defense is a good offense. Get good at reading the room: for potential pit-falls, firestorms and show-stoppers. Get good at reading your colleagues, too. Know what triggers them, how to interact with them to put you in the driver seat. Sounds great, but what about cut-throat environments? I say double down on these skills. I remember being on a team of executives who had very little in the way of connections. There was a cut-throat vibe, where no one showed alignment and everyone was angling for their own priorities. Not only was it highly dysfunctional, but it was also very unproductive. It took me some time to really show up in those meetings, but once I did, I became the curious questioner, the connector of initiatives and priorities, as well as one of a few “friends in the room” who collectively kept the group on high ground.

How will you show up in office politics?

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