Stop Kidding Yourself -- Everyone's a Politician!
So you want to be promoted -- or help someone else move up? Get a stop sign placed on your street corner -- or halt commercial development in your neighborhood? Run for president of your civic association or the PTA?
If so, you need to learn what politicians know. Personal and career situations may not seem like politics, but they are. Office politics, civic association politics, municipal politics, corporate politics -- they are all politics, and the same ideas that candidates use to get elected can help you. Winning is winning.
Here's how to use political strategy to get what you want...
DEVELOP A UNIQUE SELLING POSITION
Don't try to do what everybody else does. Instead, do what nobody else does, and persuade your boss or organization that it's important. Be the sole supplier of a service and then sell the service.
If you try to be the best salesperson in your company, the most efficient data processor in your division or the best writer in your firm, you will face lots of competition. Your path is filled with wannabes who will fight you for every promotion. But if you are the only person who can do something that nobody else is thinking of doing, the path ahead will likely be clear.
I never tried to tell Bill Clinton, whom I first met when he was the 31-year-old attorney general of Arkansas, that I, at age 30, was the best campaign manager he could hire. The world was -- and is -- crawling with campaign managers, so I invented a new phrase -- political consultant. I told Clinton what the job entailed, making it up as I went along, and that I was the only one in captivity.
FIND AN ISSUE
You don't have to be a political candidate to use an issue to get what you want. Issues are the oars we use to row our boats ahead -- in any water. If George Bush can use the fear of terrorism to get reelected, you can use the need for more stop signs to win the job of neighborhood association president. Find an issue that differs from those of your opponents (or rivals for the position you want) and that appeals to the majority of your group or to your boss. The issue can be central to your group's function or ancillary to it. It doesn't matter. All that matters is that the issue matters to your constituency.
Do you work for a mutual fund? Position yourself as the guy who advocates socially responsible investments. Want to become head of your civic group? Emphasize how you favor outreach to minority and poor neighborhoods. Seeking a promotion? Position yourself as the person who knows how to make the Internet work for your company.
Important: It is easier to sell an issue than to promote yourself. You don't have to talk about how great you are, just how important your issue is.
PLAY THE FAVOR SYSTEM
All of politics works on the favor system. It is the most basic, unwritten law of the political process. Every politician keeps a mental inventory of the favors he/she has done for other politicians and, on the other side of the ledger, records his IOUs. The politician who doesn't pay back a favor by doing an equivalent good deed finds himself cut off and his sources of largesse dried up. This favor system works in business, community life, social interactions and every other form of personal communication. As my grandmother said, "One hand washes the other."
The way to play the favor system is to spread strategic favors around that can trigger rewards later. Are you in a position to contract out services for your company? Or arrange which pizza parlor to use for your civic group's lunch? Or recommend a person for a job?
Maneuver and wrangle your way into a position where you have favors to dispense. Vladimir Putin, Russia's president, was a low-level clerk at the Kremlin under his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin. Putin was the one who handed out favors -- everything from hotel rooms to airline tickets to jobs to contracts for services. He passed them around so skillfully that he parlayed the job into the presidency of Russia.
Once you have favors to distribute, the next question becomes, to whom do you give the plums? Don't waste them on people just because they are friends or longtime associates. Look to see who is in a position to do a favor for you in return. Who can give your company some patronage back? Whose support will you need to move up your particular ladder? Whom do you need to cultivate to achieve your objective?
Always be aware that there are two kinds of people -- those who pay back favors and those who don't. The ones who don't aren't necessarily bad people... they just don't get how the game is played.
UNDERSTAND THAT THE WAY UP IS DIAGONAL
Very rarely can you move up the ladder of your ambition step-by-step. There are usually too many people on the rungs above you -- and your company, student group, civic association or church would have to pay too high a price for jumping you up out of turn.
The Bible says that a "prophet is without honor in his own land." Well, it's usually like that in your own company or organization. Those in power always see you as the kid who first walked through their door years ago. Your own people rarely give you credit for what you have become. You may have grown before their eyes, but it takes a stranger to notice it.
So the way up is diagonal. Move from one ladder to the next. Every time you join a new company, organization or civic group, people see you at your new level.
I grew up in New York City politics, but the politicians there couldn't believe that I had become a political strategist. They kept seeing me as this kid who ran around campaigning. So I needed to go to Arkansas to work for Clinton to win the credentials that I could take back to New York to get the time of day from the politicians there.
So can you be or become a politician to become effective for yourself and your organization?