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5 Ways that Politics is a Lot Like Work

Over the last several months, I ran for elected office in my town.  I lost by a narrow margin (88 votes) to my opponent who was an 18-year incumbent in the position.  Although winning would have been better than losing, I have no regrets about having tried.  Like my friends in the cartoon here, I knew this was going to be a long uphill climb and that hard work wasn't going to guarantee success - and therein lies the connection between the workplace and the political arena.

According to Wikipedia, "Politics (from Greek politikos "of, for, or relating to citizens") is the art or science of influencing people on a civic, or individual level, when there are more than 2 people involved. We often talk about workplace politics as distasteful, but the reality is that influencing people is a component of just about any job you can think of.  Whether it's influencing millions of people in a presidential race, or influencing your immediate supervisor to value your efforts, here are 5 observations about running for office that translate into ideas for increasing your odds of success in the workplace:

  1. Learn from those who've been through this before. Having never run for office or worked on a campaign, I was ignorant of some of the tactical approaches and tools available.  Talking to people who'd run for office or run campaigns accelerated my learning curve.  When you're taking on a new project, starting a new job, or just trying to take your own performance to a more effective level, you can accelerate your progress by talking to people who've already been successful.
  2. Ask for and accept help. This one is especially hard if you're an overachiever.  The best part of running was meeting a lot of new people, including quite a few who've become new friends.  The hard part was asking people to hold signs, send postcards, host house parties, etc.  You know what?  Most people like to feel helpful.  Give them the opportunity and they'll surprise you with just how helpful they can be.
  3. Invite competing points of view to the table. Your own proposals will be better if you've taken the time to understand the position of the other side(s).  You'll also be in a better position to bullet proof your own arguments if you can anticipate those of your detractors.
  4. Develop a thick skin. Running for office is personally risky.  By definition, you are inviting people to JUDGE you.  You're being judged in the workplace every day.  And if you put yourself in higher risk situations in order to advance your career, people are going to criticize you.  Learn from your critics, but don't dwell on them.
  5. Be authentic. I found that potential voters wanted to confirm that I agreed with them on their key issues.  When I didn't, I let them know where we were aligned.  At work, you need to acknowledge that you've heard people, but don't just tell them what they want to hear.

For those of you who've been involved in politics, what are other workplace comparisons that ring true for you?

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