Directions Blog

Is office politics destroying your career?

Is office politics destroying your career?

Is office politics destroying your career? ~ Alex Malley via LinkedIn

In my view, one of life’s greatest ambitions is to remain authentic. Never underestimate the many circumstances, however, that will challenge your ability to be yourself – particularly early in your career.

Navigating office politics is one of these challenges. It is a high-ranking test of one’s character and belief.

The view of politics from the CEO’s helicopter seat is predictable and vivid. It is much easier to see personal agendas, competition, ‘backstabbing’ (a word I loathe), and false relationships at play amongst those eager to succeed. But for the less seasoned professional, workplace politics can be a costly and demoralising distraction.

So, the earlier you learn how to navigate your surrounds, the quicker the career you deserve begins. It took me longer than it should’ve to work this out. I incorrectly focused on the moments of politics, not the long term game to benefit my career. I was guilty of being distracted by futile, ‘in the moment’ politics. Don’t let that happen to you.

Be better than me – try these tips:

1) Learn how to influence

Influencing is an invaluable asset of leadership, but it is also complex to attain and wield. At the core of effective influencing is the art of building authentic relationships in your work environment. This involves the simple principle of being genuinely curious about people – for instance, their interests, motivations and ambitions. This curiosity should extend beyond just those that you may directly work with. My effectiveness as an influencer came from building broad and honest relationships across the business. While we didn’t always agree on issues, there was a genuine respect for each other. Legitimately getting to know people will more often than not smoke out disingenuous political agendas.

2) Don’t resent others success

This is a sleeping giant. A really important habit to get into is to play your long game – focus on your career, not that of others. In almost every work environment I have been in, the least gracious people are the most unsuccessful. You must learn to appreciate and acknowledge other’s success. I know that can be tough for highly competitive people, but be generous – people will notice. There is nothing more appealing than the genuine support of colleagues. These moments can change the nature of relationships for the better. It also sends a signal that you are above any petty jealousies.

3) Toughen up

As you know in life and business, things are not always fair and reasonable. As a CEO, I always observe people’s reactions to difficult scenarios, such as missing out on a promotion, dealing with confrontation or personality clashes. This is important because if someone exhibits calm, respectful objectivity in such circumstances, it tells me they are building the maturity for greater success into the future. They are developing objectivity. They are toughening up.

4) Ignore the pack

From the moment you walked into the schoolyard, the challenge to be yourself began. To this day, your perception of yourself is, to some extent, shaped by your experiences with people. In almost every work environment, whether it’s a result of a poor work culture, or the convenience of jumping on the bandwagon of popular opinion, pack mentality exists. The most successful people are able to manage and build relationships with many and varied individuals, without ever being pressured, coerced or influenced to join a destructive pack. Always seek to remain a collaborative individual, rather than a compliant groupie.

5) The long game

Don’t let office politics distract you from the long game. Ultimately, the goal of your long game should revolve around three things. Firstly, take every opportunity to build and maintain relationships across the business. Secondly, expose yourself to a variety of environments both within and outside your place of work (through volunteering, for instance). This will provide you with a greater capacity to work alongside people who face different issues and challenges in their respective roles. Last of all, make it your business to position yourself as the person who will help conclude a difficult project, step in to assist when disagreements arise, or provide a positive perspective when others are no longer capable of doing so. By focusing on these three long game objectives, your context and judgement will continue to improve, and you will further insulate yourself from the petty politician(s).


Alex Malley FCPA is the chief executive of CPA Australia and the host of the Nine Network television series The Bottom Line. Alex is also a regular contributor to The Huffington Post and he is a regular business commentator on the nationally syndicated programs The Money News on 2GB and Sky News Business.

Follow Alex on Twitter

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