I am not an expert on office politics. Occasionally I wish that I was. I do have many years of job experience and can share some insights.
This post is inspired by several resources you should probably read, here, here, here, here.
Mentors and sponsors
There are two kinds of relationships we need in order to succeed in our career: mentors and sponsors. When we are young we need to have mentors and sponsors. With age, we need to take this role with younger coworkers. Both relationships are quite often very warm and emotionally rewarding.
Usually, mentors and mentees share similar position, but mentors are significantly more experienced. Mentors are often experts who know a lot about the subject and can share their knowledge with others. The sharing is good for both parties. The mentors can teach younger coworkers and offload relatively simple tasks. The young employees learn how to do their job more effectively. Mentors provide personal guidance, learning resources and educated advice. Mentees come with innovative questions, passion and innocence. By teaching others we learn, and so both parties can learn a lot from the interaction.
Sponsors are people that allow us to realize our vision. Typically sponsors take managing positions within the company. While the innovator brings vision and creativity, sponsors provide resources and administrative support. Sponsors seldom provide technical guidance, but very often they provide emotional guidance, solving political problems and removing obstacles, building connections and providing resources. Without a sponsor, we get buried under a pile of tedious and important work which may be very good for the company, but teaches us very little. Sponsors allow us to dream big and encourage our creativity. Sponsors are the best recruiters. If a sponsor leaves for another company, the best employees will often leave the workplace to join the sponsor.
Office politics can be quite dirty, but does not have to be such. Here are some examples of positive interactions:
- Mentorship. People tend to work as a team. In each team there is a team leader, an expert who mentors younger employees, several “lone wolfs”, and young employees. Generating the correct mentorship relationship is very important for the team’s sake. Without it, the expert will be crushed by routine work, the young employees will lack knowledge to complete their projects and the whole team will be gloomy.
- Sponsorship. Each team leader and each expert has some “pet project” or “guilty pleasure” that keeps him excited. Typically it is some sort of innovative idea, cutting edge technology, state of the art solution. If the upper management enables implementation of this pet project, the team is happy, the company has great products and cool project. If the team uses 100% of its resources to do dull work, people become physically sick, less productive and tend to look for a new job.
- Personal development. Each employee should know what is important for him to learn and find in his next career steps, and the company should be ready to help or lose the employee. There are different sorts of personal development: some people need to manage, others need interesting projects, some need a strong sense of belonging, yet others crave independence and family time. An employee that does not need anything is problematic: the company does not have sufficient leverage to motivate him, and he will either find another job or lose the creative edge and innovation.
- Common goal. Interpersonal and inter-departmental resource division may get at times intense. The interest of the product and the customers should take priority over the messy side of the office politics.
The people who define their goals, actively participate in mentorship and sponsorship relationships, promote common goal above specific interest are extremely valuable for the company and are likely to be promoted. There are additional ways to be promoted. Whatever happens, “playing nice” is always preferable, since people are not stupid and will be looking for justice.
Balancing passion with practical
We want a career that leaves us time for personal life, is financially practical and makes us passionate. Each job will be lacking in one of the aspects. Working with people in high-profile position tends to be financially fruitful and exciting, but stressful and disruptive for personal life. Creative and technological jobs tend to balance quite well all-around, but do not shine in any area. Some jobs are high-risk, they can be very exciting and fruitful for very few people who excel at them, and depleting for everybody else. Technical and supportive positions tend to be a bit boring and underpaid, but very good for the personal life.
Promotion may be a good thing when we are not torn between the job and the family. Strangely, people typically are promoted in their late 30s and early 40s when they also need to maximize their family time. Passion tends to come to younger people who experience their job for the first time and older people who want to maximize their experience before they loose the ability to work.
If we stay for a long period in a specific position we tend to miss the good and the bad stuff the other positions may offer. Personally, I prefer to shift the balance occasionally between very different positions. This sort of change requires great education, good friends, and passion for learning.
I used to look for a job close to my home until I got one really close. Suddenly I could not separate that well between my work and my life, with frequent visits from my wife and frequent calls from the job. The work life separation was so bad that I could not perform my duties and eventually was forced to leave the job. Working from home is even worth: there are so many temptations that only people with no family or people with iron will can pull it off.
People who can actually work from their offices tend to be either very bad highers or very good ones. Typically mediocre people will work from a big office. A company can easily fire bad employees and motivate the good ones. For a company, having a large office is a big limitation. Good people are available globally, and they may prefer working from their own offices. Having a good internet infrastructure with small local offices, a company can execute global activities. A big office limits the meaningful interactions to the main office, and limits the company employees to the people that come to the office.
You may value efficiency and independence and tend to optimize these factors.
If you plan to work close to home, you should either not care about your job or care about it very deeply. Otherwise, simply work in the main office with everybody else.
Be very open to mentorship and sponsorship relationships, have clear goals and keep them transparent. Work/life balance definitely can be a goal, this optimization is different at different stages of our life.
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