A friend phoned me the other day to say he'd been the butt of some unkind office jokes and remarks about his friendship with his female boss. He said he genuinely likes her and their families occasionally socialize together. He also feels his boss can help advance his career, so he's encouraged the relationship. However, his co-workers seem to feel he's playing politics. He said he'd like to know how to maintain his present relationship without appearing too political.
My advice was to continue what he's been doing, but do it more quietly. When interacting with the boss - and especially when socializing - do it as privately as possible. Don't joke with her in front of co-workers, try not to have lengthy meetings with her during regular business hours and don't ever let co-workers know you're families socialize together. In other words, try to keep the relationship "strictly business" in front of others in the office.
Then I suggested he consider some other career advancing techniques, which would be invisible to co-workers, but which both his boss and top management would see and appreciate.
- Volunteer. At night or early in the morning - when only you and your supervisor are in the office - ask if there's anything you can do to help her. Also ask, " how can I make a larger contribution?" It's contributions that make successful careers, at least in the long run. Never be just a " warm body." It's the pro-active people who are promoted, and then promoted again.
- Figure out what's needed. Use some intuition, as well as objectivity. Are most promotions based on creativity or detail ability, sales or production/operations experience, computer or interpersonal skills? Work on the needed skills or behavior and stay aware of your progress, as well as any change in what's needed in the organization.
- Show initiative. Make suggestions, or develop new ideas. Of course, these have to be well thought-out and grounded in reality, not just "pie-in-the-sky." And, offer to take charge of the suggestion or idea to make it work. Initiative like this says you deserve a promotion.
- Create "visi-posure" - visible exposure - for yourself. Become known as an expert in a particular job, function, or industry by writing articles on it and/or speaking about it at local events or meetings. Obviously, this must be a subject about which you know something substantial, but if you do, make the world aware of your knowledge! Then, let the boss - and the boss' boss - know of your articles and/or speaking engagements. Also, consider writing an article for the organization or association newsletter. You know, top management always reads this with interest, to see if it's worth the investment!
- Get more schooling. Stay at the cutting-edge of what you do. Whether you're in accounting, administration, information systems, legal, operations/production, marketing/sales, or some other function, you must be the best you can be. And, that means going back for re-training frequently. Then, let your supervisor know how this schooling can help the organization. If you make this case effectively, the organization may even pay for the schooling!
- Remember your accomplishments, because nobody else will. These are particularly important as they effect the bottom line. Have you increased revenues, decreased costs, created a new system that reduced staff and maintained productivity, played a key role in a project that accomplished something? Then, at the right time, remind the boss of your successes.
Now, all this may sound like "playing politics - without integrity." However, integrity is satisfied as long as you can say, "NO!" to the following question: "Will I regret this action if it doesn't pay off?" When using this benchmark, your career advancement motives will be both credible and honorable, regardless of what co-workers say or think. Politics? I don't think so. This is just good business.
Above all, remember that your career is a business (and you're its CEO), so manage it like one! These career advancing methods are used by successful managers/executives and entrepreneurs all over the world. They're tried and true self-marketing techniques, and they will work with your boss, and your boss's boss. Just use them quietly.