How To Manage Office Politics, Part 3: How To Master the Game and Excel in Your Career

This is a guest post by Cornelius Mota of Poise Catalyst.

This is the last part of a 3-part series on how to tackle office politics and become a master of it.

  1. How To Manage Office Politics, Part 1: 5 Essential Tips To Getting Started
  2. How To Manage Office Politics, Part 2: How To Defend Yourself From Office Backstabbers
  3. How To Manage Office Politics, Part 3: How To Master the Game and Excel in Your Career

Master Office Politics

In the previous two parts of the “How To Manage Office Politics” series, we covered how to get ahead and how to self-defend successfully. However, playing the game successfully is the bare minimum needed in order to survive and meet the expectations in an organization.

If your goal is to get to the top, you must achieve the level of mastery. This is what this post is all about. Moreover, we’ll also explore how to do this, while staying true to your values.

1. Take a Long Term Perspective

Many people have a short term view on office politics. They consider the culture of the organization, the obvious political games going on and the predictable next moves, the latest trends supported by the organization’s leaders.

However, in order to become politically savvy, you need to stay ahead of the game. To LEAD the change.

The people who do well, quickly pick on the the latest changes in their organization and adapt effectively. They start to add value in the new context and they are successful.

If you want to excel though, this approach is too slow.

You need to anticipate trends:

  1. Take a long-term perspective!
  2. Try to understand where the economy, your industry, your organization is heading.
  3. How is your department going to evolve?
  4. Who will be the most powerful formal and informal influencers in the near and in the more distant future?

Of course, it is impossible to predict in detail what will happen. What I’m advocating above is a mindset. Don’t try to just stay on top of latest developments. Anticipate them, take the lead, be part of those who shape the future!

2. Build Sound Partnerships with the Key Influencers

The reality is that as brilliant as you are, there are other great people in the world and in your organization. There are lots of people who achieve impressive results, who have a vision and make amazing things happen. Yet, only a few get a place at the top.

Let me be blunt. If you don’t have the support of the right people in the organization, you will not succeed to get and/or stay at the top, no matter what.

Keeping the above in mind, here are a few elements to consider:

  1. Draw the power map of your organization. Both formal and informal.
  2. Think about the future, about possible shifts of power.
  3. Find natural ways to establish contact and make your accomplishments known to those in position of power.
  4. Be proactive and take on projects that ensure visibility and are important for the organization.

Yes, it’s like a chess game.

I don’t support using any manipulative trickery to get under the skin of important people. I do recognize though that if you are to succeed, you need their support. I say, go and work hard, make sure you ensure visibility for yourself and go the extra mile in order to impress the key influencers with the commitment you have towards the organization.

3. Become a Key Influencer Yourself

You need to become one of those people in the organization that occupy a top position on the power map. Remember that this is not (only) about formal power.

You can become a key influencer via leveraging the power of expertise, of enthusiasm, of integrity, of the favors bank you developed while helping others and via applying consistently your influencing skills.

Think about all the stakeholders in the projects you manage and in your career. Some of them are more important than others, but you need to be great at managing all of them.

Do your homework’s thoroughly. Get to know the people and find out what are the types of influencing strategies they best respond to, what is their favorite medium of communication, who are the people who can influence them the most and so on.

If you haven’t read yet “The Psychology of Influence” by Dr. Robert Cialdini, I highly recommend it. And also the negotiation books by Chester L. Karrass. I love this quote by him:

In business, as in life, you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate.” ~ Chester L. Karrass

You don’t become a key influencer overnight. You need to work at it consistently and from a number of different angles, as mentioned above.

4. Become a Source of Enthusiasm and Positive Energy in Your Organization

We’ve already covered being great at what you do. But the point here is also about attitude:

  • Be the ambassador of your product/job/department within the company.
  • Be the one who displays enthusiasm, who is positive, who always finds a solution.
  • Be the obvious “go to” member of the organization for what you do.
  • Know everything about your company, about the products/services it delivers, about consumers, about the key executives.

5. Make Your Choices in Terms of Ethics

I’m going to be blunt here. As per my observations, there are two kinds of people who manage to get to the top.

All of them are people who are brilliant and bring value-added to the organization. There are some fundamental differences though:

  • In the first category there are people who are manipulation experts, but have little limits in terms of bending the limits of ethics. They are true masters of politics and have an amazing ability to do very well in difficult situations. Their ability to play political games is both impressive and scary.
  • The second category I’ve noticed is made of people that deliver massive value-added to the organizations, while displaying impeccable ethics. This combination is so powerful that it commands immense respect from people. Eventually, true value raises to to the top and such people are a living proof that you can succeed, while staying true to your values.

Truth be told, in reality the first category may outperform the latter in the short term. I personally believe that there are far more people in the first category. Especially if we factor in the time element, mastering political games can deliver results faster.

However, everything comes down to how we define “success”. Is it to become a CEO by 30 no matter what, stabbing people behind their backs, leaving character aside and doing whatever is needed to succeed?

Or is it to live a life, while staying true to your values? To succeed, while inspiring people to be better?

I can tell you that when I personally met people from the second category, they made such a strong impression on me. Their desire to excel and to help was so genuine, that respect and admiration were automatic.

But if you choose to raise to the top as a member of the second category, be prepared to pay the price! You will need to make some tough choices at times. You may advance slower or you may even need to leave an organization.

There is also a strong watchout I would like to share here.

Most people start their career with good intentions. Very few say: “OK, I will step on everything that gets in my way and I will get at the top.”

But as years go by and especially as many of dreams lay broken on the floor, there may be a temptation to deviate “just a little bit” from the good path sometimes.

I read the biography of Jordan Belfort, also known as “The Wolf of Wall Street“. In brief, he created from scratch a company hiring over 1,000 traders on Wall Street in the ’80s, made millions, had everything and then started to get into shady business practices, lost everything and went to jail. There is a happy ending though, i.e. he is now a motivational speaker and trainer, helping people avoid his mistakes and succeed ethically.

The point I wanted to share from his amazing story is that he got to do the shady stuff that got him into trouble, via taking little steps. You don’t usually wake up one day and say “OK, forget ethics. I’m a bad guy now, I’ll step over people, I’ll break the law and do whatever is needed to succeed”.

However, what often happens is that you may allow yourself to take just a little step off the right path. And then another small one, and another, and another. Because each step is so small, it seems that it’s perfectly acceptable. However, in time, you may get lost in darkness, without even realizing what you are doing.

Watch out for the small steps trap! You will get carried away before you know it.

On a side note, the story of Jordan’s life will be featured in a movie directed by Martin Scorsesse, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. It will be released later this year in 2013.

To conclude, I firmly believe that it is possible to succeed without compromising your values. I’ve seen plenty of great people who did it and they are an inspiration to me and to all the ones who are lucky to be around them. You need to take a long term view, deliver massive value-added to your organization, become a master of influencing and get the support of the other leaders in your organization. Most importantly, be vigilant to avoid the small steps trap and always stay true to your values.

For those of you with Live a Better Life in 30 Days Program, read Day 15: Identify Your Values to get started on identifying your values and following true to them.

This is the last part of a 3-part series on how to tackle office politics and become a master of it.

  1. How To Manage Office Politics, Part 1: 5 Essential Tips To Getting Started
  2. How To Manage Office Politics, Part 2: How To Defend Yourself From Office Backstabbers
  3. How To Manage Office Politics, Part 3: How To Master the Game and Excel in Your Career

Image: betsyweber

About the Author: Cornelius is a life balance author and blogger. He worked in Fortune 100 companies such as P&G and Unilever and has over 10 years of business experience. Visit his blog Poise Catalyst and get his free course How To Become More Productive .
  • Lolita

    Great post that i have shared with my colleagues. I hope they will learn a few things from it. On another note, the links inside the post are sometimes not related to the point

    e.g. Most importantly, be vigilant to avoid the small steps trap and always stay true to your values.

    The avoid leads one to Procastination.

    • Celes

      Hey Lolita, thanks for sharing the post with your colleagues! :)

      On the links, it’s because they are automatically inserted by a plugin. Procrastination is related to avoidance which is why the word “avoid” was auto-linked to the procrastination post. I’ve corrected that one though, so thanks for letting me know!

      • Kiran

        I’ve been following your blogs in the last few months and it has been a really great learning experience. Thank you for writing such kind articles. They are really helpful in professional day-to-day life.

        Thanks !

        • Celes

          Hey Kiran! :) The thanks have to go to Cornel who has written the three articles in the office politics series. I’m glad to know you’ve been enjoying the PE articles. Stick around and there’ll be more to come! :) Feel free to give your suggestions in Ask Celes section! :)

    • Cornelius

      Hey, Lolita! I’m glad you enjoyed the post and thanks for sharing it with your colleagues. Hopefully, we’ll see them around, here on the blog. ;)

  • Michael

    Hi Cornelius, I like your articles and your approach to it. I also liked that you touch on the ethical elements that is important to long term success and happiness too!

    I recall from Celes’ introduction that you have a strong background in business. Can you include simple stories (either of yourself or others’) to reinforce/strengthen some of the points you make?

    Please keep up with the good work!

    • Celes

      Hey Michael! :) Cornel has a strong background in the corporate world. He has spent 9 years in P&G and Unilever (correct me if I’m wrong Cornel), which are stellar Fortune 100 companies. I’ll let him fill in the remaining blanks. :)

      Thanks so much for leaving such a kind note on his post! :)

    • Cornelius

      Hey Michael,

      Thanks for the comment and for the point you make!

      Regarding office politics, in the beginning I completely ignored this part. I had this idea that you only need to do your job well and everything else comes naturally. Obviously, I found out later that it is actually a better idea to be proactive in this field, as well.

      Then, after seeing all sorts of game people play, I tended to have a negative view on office politics. More so after being caught in the middle of some political fights. In the first part of the series I mentioned how one day I found myself caught all of a sudden in the middle of a crisis, when switching assignments.

      Then, I looked around and got wiser, i.e. noticed how politics can also be used ethically and positively, as I had a few masters around.

      For example, here is one way I applied these learnings.

      I was having monthly alignment meetings with several department heads. These were the meetings in which big decisions were made on all key projects. Instead of thinking about the meeting as the time to go and make a case, I thought of it just as the last step in the process. As the tip of the ice-berg.

      I actually engaged one-on-one with all the participants long before the meeting, to make sure we understood each other’s concerns and that I addressed any issues in due time, if needed.

      As soon as I started doing this, everything went soooo much smoother.

      That’s when I really internalized the fact that in the end, office politics is a tool. It can be used in the wrong way, but also in a positive way. And it’s very effective.

      I wanted to share with you guys my perspective on how to capitalize on this tool in a positive and ethical way..

      Thanks again for the comment and for the nice words! I’ll follow your suggestion to share more personal stories in my future posts. :)

      • Michael

        Thank you for your elaboration, Cornelius! I was initially thinking that you can elaborate in your future writing, but obviously you take initiative well! :D

        I fully agree with you. I think your proactive approach touched on something even more important in business – Trust. Whether this works sometimes depends on the company’s culture, but I think the chances of working are much better.

        Thank you again for writing 3 very good articles. I look forward to your future ones at PE or Poise Catalyst! :D

        • Cornelius

          Thanks, Michael! Talk Soon! :D

    • Lolita


      I think you are referring to the personal touch that Celes gives her articles that have kept us all hooked! Personally from 2009, i have read every article. But i appreciate people have different writing skills and ways of telling the story. But what sets this blog from the self-help stories is our ability to connect with the author then the subject.

      • Cornelius

        Hey Guys,

        I also like a lot the personal touch Celes gives to her articles!

        I’ll keep my voice, but I agree that sharing personal stories helps a lot in both strengthening the points made and in relating to you. So I will do more of it in the future posts. ;)

        Thanks for feedback and talk soon!

      • Michael

        I think you’re right Lolita. I suppose we’re starting to get spoiled by the quality work from Celes!

        Reminds me of the saying that people don’t always notice a good house party, but they know when one’s not. Guests may not notice, but good hosts always have plans to stock the right drinks, introduce people to each other, etc. :D

  • Craig Harper

    Hey Cornelius.

    I like this article.

    Here are some questions I ask myself when trying to connect with my work colleagues:

    1. What’s the best way for me to communicate with this person about this issue in this situation to create the best outcome?
    2. How does she see this situation (conversation, problem, challenge, opportunity, etc.)?
    3. What is his reality?
    4. How do others perceive me? *This question is not about ego, self-loathing or paranoia but rather, self-awareness and situational-awareness.
    5. What are her beliefs, values, goals, expectations and fears?
    6. What will motivate (or de-motivate) this person?


  • Cornelius

    Hey Craig,

    Very valuable share!

    These questions enable a really good understanding of others, taking a number of different angles.

    I think a lot of times you can get into office politics trouble simply because either you don’t make yourself understood or you don’t manage to really grasp the perspective and position of others.

    Thanks so much for the nice words and for the great input! ;)

  • Bob

    Nice post Cornelius,

    In my opinion there are two critical factors that influence anyone’s success:
    1. Having vision by adapting new technology ideas to your industry before everyone else.
    2. Being a master of communication.

    Two appropriate quotes:
     “Observe how system into system runs, What other planets circle other suns.” -Pope, Alexander

    “85% of your success in life will come from your ability to communicate and interact with others. It is up to you to become very, very good at getting along with people, even people very different from you and especially people who do not fulfil your expectations or perform in the way you want them to perform.”

    • Cornelius

      Hi Bob,

      Inspiring quotes! :)

      I think it’s so true that our success is dependent to a large degree upon how well we manage to communicate with people. Even more so in an office policy context…

      Thanks so much for taking the time to contribute to the discussion. ;)

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