The Enigma of Corporate Politics: Nice People Actually Tend to Finish First
Why soft-skills are critical for your personal brand equity.
If you are a strong personality like me, you have undoubtedly also been on the receiving end of feedback that sounds something like: “You really nailed that project. You delivered everything we asked of you. But…you are just not ready for promotion. You need to work on [insert soft skill].” Then they promote Debbie instead of you, whose contributions don’t seem to be as impactful as yours, but she has the soft skills you lack. Or worse…nobody actually gives you the feedback, they just promote Debbie and when you inquire as to why it wasn’t you, they just tell you “Your time will come. Keep working hard.”
The harsh reality of corporate politics is how we show-up can be more important than what we actually do. In fact, our reputation can outweigh our accomplishments, which means the way we make people feel and the relationships we foster can decide our corporate fate. Why? Because 90% of decisions are emotional...yes, even and especially people decisions. So much so that we are willing to throw out data that doesn’t rectify with our feelings. How many decisions are made because we have “a good feeling about a person” that overrides important factors like lack of education, experience, accomplishments, etc.? Which is why it is critical to be intentional with your own personal brand equity because you are your brand. Here is a process for auditing your own brand equity and making a course correction if needed:
Ask for feedback. Choose 5 individuals whose opinion you value in your corporate circle (internal and external to the company if appropriate) and let them know you would like some informal feedback on how you can improve your effectiveness. Ask them the following (via email is ok but personally is better so you can probe): 1) What can you always count on me for? 2) How do I make you feel when we engage? 3) What can I say or do differently to improve the way we engage? This is going to be a harrowing and brutal experience, so be prepared.
Look for themes in the feedback. Even if people say it a bit differently, chances are good the themes will be consistent. Document the positive themes that make you proud. Continue to leverage these strengths and look for opportunities where these strengths shine. Also document the themes which are liabilities. You may find that most of your liabilities are also strengths in disguise, of which all is needed is a soft skill to shift your liability as a strength. For example, there is a difference between brutal transparency (i.e. I don’t like any of these ideas. I’m not sure where your heads are at. Go try again.) and constructive transparency (i.e. I know you all have worked really hard on these, but they just aren’t giving me that “wow” feeling yet. Let’s talk about where we go next.) Both exemplify transparency, which most would say is a strength, but the softer-skill approach of the latter tends to leave a more positive sentiment even though the feedback is in fact critical. Note that your body-language must be congruent with your words for the impact to have its full effect.
Set an intention that resets what you want people to believe about you. I appreciate Tom Bilyeu’s framework he shares in Impact Theory on how to do this. He asks you to fill in the blank to the statement: “I am the kind of person who________.” For example, if a theme you discovered is that you are quick to jump to conclusions without soliciting input from your team, this may look like: “I am the kind of person who is appreciated by my team for making them feel heard and their input valued. Put these intentions in a conspicuous place so you can be frequently reminded of your commitment.
Do something dramatic to kick-start the shift and put yourself in a different light. For example, if your intention is to be seen as more appreciative, you may make a concerted effort to recognize people’s efforts in ways they would appreciate but may not expect. Or, if you are perceived as someone who is a bit stand-offish, you could volunteer to lead a group activity that promotes culture. This is going to require effort and likely going outside your comfort zone. So, plan accordingly and be brave.
Monitor for shifts. Yes, complete and repeat the cycle by asking for feedback and looking for signals that people are seeing you differently. If your attention was to be more approachable, a signal could be that people are now seeking you out more frequently.
Undoubtedly, you have already identified at least 5 people who are jerks and somehow got promoted. Or, you are saying to yourself “it shouldn’t matter.” Yes, there are exceptions to every rule, which generally in this case is due to extenuating circumstances which likely don’t apply to you. And, yes, it is all terribly unfair, but that doesn’t change that it is reality. So, be the kind of person who owns their brand.
Anne’s Note: As always, I hyperlink to brands I love so I can share the love with you.