• Mel Butcher

Network and Politics

Updated: Jan 16, 2021

abstract visual of a person's network connections

Years ago, at a local professional organization happy hour, someone introduced me to a young engineering graduate. I don't remember his name, but I clearly remember his face and demeanor.

This young man was utterly frantic. Everything about his facial expression, his body language, and his actual language conveyed panic. We had only just met, but his sentences spilled out, quickly revealing the source of his frenzy.

He had graduated some time ago and hadn't been able to land a job offer. He wanted and needed a job ASAP.

He was desperate.


A friend of mine works for an international consulting firm. She's an extremely talented project manager. Beyond getting the work done, she helps her team members with their work. She advocates for them. They love working for her, and have stated so clearly in 360 reviews. She makes the team enthusiastic. She's a catalyst. An energizer.

She was passed up for a promotion recently.

And she's not happy about it.


The myth of the meritocracy continues strong. Sometimes, I wonder if universities deliberately avoid teaching students about networking and relationship building because they continue to profit so greatly from the myth that a degree from their institution is the key to landing a job... a career.

There's another way that women, in particular, are conditioned to believe in meritocracy: be quiet, do your work, and then when you've *really earned it, you'll get recognition.

These meritocratic ideas do not serve us, because they are not true.

Politics in the workplace gets a bad wrap. But what are we really talking about?

"To their detriment, women perceive cultivating relationships and mobilizing them on their behalf as, at best, an occasional necessity rather than the very exercise of leadership. They fail to see that the practice of seeking out powerful people, cultivating their favor, and cashing in those chips is itself a demonstration of leadership potential." -- The Center for Work-Life Policy

Building and maintaining a strong network should be at the foundation of any career. It's not the only thing, of course. However, the ability to cultivate relationships is the only way to achieve really big goals.

And if you're reading this, I know you have some big goals, even if you haven't said them out loud yet.

I see you.

A healthy network spans disciplines and levels, is both deep and wide. To advance, especially in a corporate setting, we must understand who has power and influence. And we should also recognize that it is dynamic. Power changes hands, people switch companies, and the junior staff member we see in front of us now may very well be an influential power player in a few short years.

Once a network is established, the next critical skill is leveraging the network - using the trust you've cultivated to mobilize people on your behalf.

This is not about manipulation.

This is about building and maintaining trust, finding people with aligning goals, creating connectivity or teams towards achieving those goals,


it's about about putting yourself in the other person's shoes.


Imagine that you are a professional engineer. You've got 20 years of experience. You're managing several teams and need to hire more talent so you're on the lookout. You already go to professional organization meetings in your specialty area, and the local chapter is a good way to scope talent. Which candidate are you most interested in: the desperate recent grad you've never met before who shows up all but begging for a job? or the student who's been volunteering enthusiastically for the organization over the past year whom you've seen is reliable and you know is about to graduate?

Now imagine that instead of an engineer, you're a powerhouse leader for a large consultancy. Perhaps you recently made it to VP. You are a manager of managers who are themselves managing many team members. You have many millions of dollars worth of projects under your purview. Perhaps the big boss above you is energetic and demanding. They breath down your neck regularly for updates, snapshots, information to clarify why several different projects under several different managers are not going well and what you are going to do to help get them back on track... You're exhausted when you leave work, but you make time for your spouse and family. When annual review comes around, you have project and internal reporting deadlines, deadlines for reviews, and a limited budget for raises... Who will you promote and who will you give raises to? Which team member was in your ear most frequently describing their accomplishments and their ambitions to you?


Leaders are human.

Managers are human.

Every human has a limited amount of time and a limited amount of emotional bandwidth.

Put another way - powerful people are busy and pulled in many directions.

It doesn't mean you can't get their attention. It does mean you need to be strategic in your approach.

Coming back to you today and your goals... if the outcome you seek is important enough to you, you will recognize this humanity in those you seek to serve, and those whom you need on your side for achieving your goal... and then act accordingly.


A challenge for you:

Think of a stretch goal you have for yourself. This doesn't need to be something in your work annual goals, but it could be. Have the goal in your mind?

Now, think of someone who has power or influence that could help you achieve this goal. Do you see their face in your mind?

Now, take one action today toward building a better, trusting relationship with that individual.



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