This year’s presidential campaign subjected us to the usual barrage of negative ads, divisive wedge issues and minor misstatements amplified beyond all recognition. There’s a reason it’s such an insult to be accused of “playing politics”. But executives can – and should – learn from electoral politics to position themselves for career success.
The point isn’t to become a Machiavellian powermonger. But if you take the time to build authentic relationships, improve your work skills and provide real value to others, it’s possible to succeed at office politics with integrity. You can model the behaviour of the best politicians: set clear goals, reach out to supporters, build and exercise influence, and then execute relentlessly to achieve your ambitions.
In short, you can devise a campaign plan for your career.
Choose your milestones
The first step in creating a career campaign plan is to identify your goal, even if it’s provisional. (I consulted for one politician who, more than a year in advance, plotted a run for Congress, just in case the incumbent stepped down. When he didn’t, my client switched to a new objective.)
You can periodically update your plan – or create a new, prewritten resume – to match your changing goals. For now, pick an endpoint and get started. Just as a presidential campaign focuses on the dates of the New Hampshire primary and the Iowa caucuses, you’ll want to write down the dates that you consider crucial. Those might include annual performance reviews, application deadlines or target dates for company initiatives in which you’d like to participate. Then work backward from these dates, just as political campaign teams do.
The agenda you set for yourself is the core of your career campaign plan. But how do you identify what steps to take? One executive I know decided to emulate the biographies of people he admired. His resume-building plan has worked wonders, but you can also stick to informational interviews to learn more about the experience you’ll need. Remember to be flexible, too.
Candidates always build in time for debate prep, policy review and training in public speaking – and you should do the same for the skills you want to cultivate. Make the most of the openings in your schedule. Scope out where you need to head with three simple steps:
+ Identify the skills acquired by others who have reached your goal.
+ Determine what skills you can learn on your own. For the rest, figure out how long formal study will take.
+ Chart your skills-development plan on your campaign calendar.
Target influential people
A vital element in political and career success is who you know. When I worked in New Hampshire for 2004 presidential candidate Howard Dean, he endured endless meetings to seek the favour of local officials, because they controlled votes and resources in their small slices of the state.