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Career Myths Vs Truths #2: Politics are Inevitable—Learn to Navigate Them

In our book, Don’t Dread Monday, we highlight ten career myths and their corresponding truths. For the next ten blog posts, we will be exploring these myths/truths more in-depth as we continue to tackle how you can find true meaning and success in your career.

Myth #2: To get ahead you just need to do a good job

Of all the maxims we’ve been told over the years, this is the one that we really want to believe is true. Gaining rewards and promotions based on merit is what seems fair, but unfortunately, this is not usually the case. When working in any organization there are politics to navigate. We’ve all met someone who was able to “work the system” to rise up in the company—that is not what we’re advocating. Instead, we want you to find how you fit within the culture of your company and make conscious decisions that will benefit you.

Let us explain further. Take a moment and ask yourself and your coworkers these questions:

  1. What do people get in trouble for in my organization?
  2. What do people get rewarded for in my organization?

Once you answer these key questions, you’ll have an enhanced understanding of your company culture. What to do with that information is up to you, but here are two, real-life examples to guide you:

Jack had been in his firm for several years and was looking to rise to a senior management role. After speaking to multiple coworkers about these two questions, he was reminded of one “road rule” of the company he had forgotten: Always be seen as a loyal member of the “firm,” willing to delay personal and career desires if need be; trust that the firm will take care of those who wait. Once he uncovered this, Jack realized this rule helped protect the company from steamrollers who would sprint their way to the top without truly caring about the firm. He decided to embrace this road rule, eventually rising to a senior management position.

From another direction, Maya had been with her company for about a year and was frustrated. After finding her core needs, she realized she needed to be a “Change Agent” in her organization, and she knew she would receive pushback. Part of the company’s culture was to not disagree with senior leadership, and Maya consciously broke that unspoken rule. However, in doing so she has remained true to her values and is feeling more purpose at work.

Jack and Maya had radically different approaches to navigating the politics of their organizations, but both made their decision with their eyes wide open. You cannot know how you fit into the system until you understand the system. So, ponder the two questions above, talk to your coworkers, and continue to be true to yourself. It’s not all about doing a good job. You must remember the second career truth:

Truth #2: Politics are inevitable—learn to navigate them.