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I wrote a blog post a few years ago focused on building a professional network, which you can read here. Recently, I read a Harvard Business Review article entitled Great Leaders Embrace Office Politics by Michael Chang Wenderoth and wanted to revisit the topic. The article immediately grabbed my attention because when I think of the idea of “office politics,” I usually do not have positive thoughts. I think office politics is all about building superficial relationships for the purpose of getting ahead at work. I think about people I have known in the past who usually do positive things at work, but only when the boss is looking.
The point to Mr. Wenderoth’s article is that relationships matter in your career, especially in Corporate America. Not that relationships are unimportant in the military, but they just get progressively more important as an officer rises in rank. For the first three ranks in the military, I would even argue that relationships are relatively unimportant. That is because the promotion rate to the grade of O-3 is very high. The promotions happen relatively quickly and are based on time and good performance – typically not great performance. As an O-3, however, is evaluated for higher ranks, their evaluations become much more important and the promotion rate drops. It is harder to get promoted, and only the best officers are selected for promotion. When I speak to officers with outstanding military evaluations in the rank of senior O-3 and junior O-4, I ask why their evaluations read well. The majority respond that they worked hard and that they had a great relationship with their boss. They understand that relationships matter.
In Corporate America, you can expect promotions to come from an even mix of high-quality results and a strong professional network. This sometimes surprises transitioning JMOs, but I thought an excerpt from the article referenced above was extremely insightful. Wenderoth says,
The harsh reality is that organizations are hierarchies, and the social science bears out uncomfortable truths about politics and interpersonal relationships: We make initial snap judgments of people, often based on appearance, that can carry on over time; we favor those who are similar to us; we get promoted or gain valuable information by making our boss feel good and building relationships with influential people; we form perceptions based on a speaker’s appearance, body language, and voice more than the content of the argument; and we are more likely to be perceived as competent if we are judiciously critical or show anger (at least men are). There is strong evidence that our work ratings, bonuses, and promotions are weakly correlated to actual performance – in fact, performance may even matter less to our success than our political skills and how we are perceived by those who make decisions.
This paragraph seems to say that career success has more to do with psychology than leadership or career management. The truth is, those things are interlinked. As you are evaluate your career, both in or out of the military, remember this simple truth: results and relationships matter.
Best of success,