6 Rules for Savvy Office Navigation

How to leverage the right people and learn the favorites.


Jack is a close friend of an influential vice president and goes hiking with the VP’s family. Maria was an aide to a governor, and although her job has nothing to do with legislative matters, she is shown enormous deference on the subject. Harold and Gretchen may seem friendly at the department head meetings but they can barely stand to be in the same room. Carl has retired on the job and is generally disregarded. Ramon is brilliant, but seven years ago he had an open dispute with Dennis--who is now CEO. Ramon and Gretchen have an alliance against Harold, and yet Jack is one of Harold’s allies.

Many workplaces resemble a tangled cobweb of relationships.

Even if your goal is to avoid the petty disputes and dubious perks of office politics, it helps to know the boundaries. The formal organization chart is seldom the real organization chart. An executive’s secretary may, under certain circumstances, wield greater influence than a department director. A crucial part of many jobs is learning about the pressure points and leverage centers that determine what’s done and who gets favored.

Pick the wrong ally or fail to include a key player and your programs may be vulnerable. This doesn’t mean you need to turn into Machiavelli or The Godfather. It does mean that you need to know how they operate. Some general rules:

  • Cast a wide net when getting advice on projects. Far better to include someone who has little to say than to overlook someone who’ll view the exclusion as an insult.
    • Be discreet. An ill-chosen witticism can do enormous harm to your career. Don’t put down others.
      • Avoid rigidity. Let your solicitation of input be early and genuine. See if you can accommodate the concerns of critics.
        • Don’t burn bridges. Today’s adversary may be desperately needed as an ally tomorrow.
          • Be generous when giving credit. It will be noticed.
          • Michael Wade writes Execupundit.com, an eclectic combination of management advice, observations, and links. A partner with the Phoenix firm of Sanders Wade Rodarte Consulting Inc., he has advised private and public-sector organizations for more than 30 years.


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