Running a Good Race

The surprising parallels between seeking public office and managing your career

As we head into election season’s homestretch, now is the perfect time to consider some of the valuable lessons that politics can teach us about governing our careers. Here are some important campaign-trail tips that anyone can apply to his or her professional life:

Know your audience
Being regarded as “in touch” with voters is critical for candidates. Take a page from their political playbook, and strive to understand and accurately read your professional constituents: your boss, colleagues, and customers.

Next to superior job performance, nothing will help you advance your career like knowing how to communicate with and win over diverse types of personalities. For instance, some coworkers might value frank discussions, while others require kid-glove treatment during debates. One supervisor might prefer frequent status updates, while another wants only to see final results.

Be an astute observer of people’s attitudes, work styles, priorities, and pet peeves–and be willing to adapt your approach accordingly. Practice active listening by truly paying attention to what people say, and try to understand other people’s viewpoints. Although you can’t be all things to all people, elevating your emotional IQ will enhance your influence and effectiveness on the job.

Think twice before going negative
Filling the airwaves with attack ads is the tactic of choice for some political candidates. The risk is that focusing on another person’s purported flaws and weaknesses–instead of championing your own accomplishments and positive attributes–can really rub voters the wrong way. Likewise, badmouthing a manager or coworker can backfire and seriously damage your credibility.

When you’re upset or frustrated, protect your integrity by exercising discretion. Rather than venting to colleagues at the water cooler or posting work-related complaints on Facebook or Twitter, take some time to collect your thoughts and gain perspective.

Cooler heads typically come up with more constructive ways to resolve conflicts and dilemmas. For example, you might arrange to talk through possible solutions with a trusted (and impartial) member of your professional network. Remember letting off steam in the heat of the moment might temporarily relieve stress, but it could do irreparable harm to your reputation in the process.

Build alliances
No candidate is an island. When you watch TV coverage of late-night victory speeches on Nov. 2, be mindful that behind each winning candidate stand scores of supporters and advisers who helped the newly elected official reach his or her goal.

To achieve your career objectives, you’ll also need to forge strong alliances. How? In addition to being a friendly and team-oriented person, volunteer for interdepartmental projects that will boost your visibility and exposure to different areas of the organization. Also, look for respected leaders who might be willing to serve as a professional mentors.


And while it’s certainly beneficial to know and impress well-connected power players within your organization, lobby for support at the grassroots level, too. Take a sincere interest in every employee you work with–regardless of the person’s rank or job title. Seek common ground, and prove yourself to be a team player. In short, aim to be someone that people want to help. You never know whose endorsement or vote of confidence will come in handy down the line.



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