Johnny Fallon

Irish Political Commentator

Lessons for Office Politics

Many young people find it difficult to negotiate the hard world of office politics. Some of the brightest and best young graduates fail to reach their true potential due to getting swamped in a murky world of friendships, favouritism and preferences.

The problem is that there is nothing to prepare you for this. There is no course or discussion to assist you. This is because we don’t really like admitting it exists. We tend to like the idea of everything being a complete meritocracy in our company or profession. However, human nature is such that our relationships play just as big a role in our career as our talents.

There are some lessons that national politics can teach us to help in this endeavour though. The study of this can help a person to understand just why such a system exists and to deal with the grim realities. There are many lessons to learn. Here I am condensing them down to 6 simple rules.

1. Hard work is only a start.
OK all your life you have been told that hard work is what gets you what you want. Hard work will answer anything. The truth is hard work is vitally important and necessary but it is only a start. You cannot rely on hard work to see you through. There have been many hard working politicians who never got anywhere in politics. If a politician were to simply sit at their desk preparing legislation, and helping constituents, towing the party line and putting in hard yards we all know they would be respected but probably not progress. If they want to get to the top they must also use the media, build relationships, and communicate well. Hard work is a great thing, but others will steal your thunder. Others will criticise you just to stop your progress. Hard work is a start but it needs to be defended, marketed and protected.

2. What others think matters
Once again you have probably always been told not to care what people think. To get on with your work and give others no heed. I am sorry but it just won’t work out that way. It does matter what others think. A politician must gain trust. They must get respect in media and their colleagues must be willing to follow them. Other people’s opinions of you matter because it frames all your future career chances. This is how you are seen and you must pay attention to shaping and moulding that in the most favourable light. You can be as great as you like but if people don’t like you then you are going nowhere. Think of it like a house. The inside may be beautiful but only friends and family see that. The outside of the house is what everyone else sees and there are far more of them.

3. Play the Game.
Politics, whether national or in an office, is a game. Different people play it to different levels. You should never let the game suck you in and become an obsession. Bertie Ahern could be accused of letting that happen. However, an even greater error is trying to deny the game exists or steadfastly refuse to play. If you want to be successful then you have to understand it and play it. A quick look at political parties across countries down through the years will show you that while many start out as renegades outside the box, in order to be successful they eventually play the game and learn to play it well. You need friends and allies. You must seek them out and work with them. There are compromises to be made and certain things you will have to go along with in order to achieve or get support for a bigger aim. Don’t lose yourself but don’t stand on the sidelines. It has to be done.

4. You must Lead.
If you want success then you have to show at least some leadership qualities. A meek backbencher in national politics will always remain no more than that. What is it that allows some others stand out? Confidence. Decisiveness. Belief. Charisma. These are all qualities that can and must be developed. People gravitate toward those who form opinions rather than those who follow them. Going into a meeting are you one of those that is a key player yet to be convinced or are you one of those that they can safely assume will follow if we get the main players on board?

5. Respect all.
While nobody likes to admit to it one of the greatest failings we possess is a lack of respect. At first it sounds easy enough. Respect those ahead of you. Bosses, leaders, superiors. You don’t have to defer to them all the time but you do need to respect them and their experience. Do not dismiss anyone. A person may not be as well educated, they may not appear all that bright but they got to a position somehow and until you respect how they did that you are not going to find a way around them. Nobody likes a sycophant but we all do like to be appreciated and our experience noted. The bigger problem is of course those you disagree strongly with. Opponents or competitors. We have a tendency to always dismiss these and show them no respect. Politics contains a lot of this. They are ‘fools’ or ‘incompetents’. We like to name call and have a good snigger behind their back. That happens. Do not let it make you think you are correct though. More than anything else you must understand an opponent or competitor. You must know what makes them tick and what their next move will be. Therefore you need to learn about them, and from them, and to do that you need to respect them. If they really were so useless then you would not be competing or thinking about them would you? Whatever it is they have, its causing a block to you and if you are as talented as you believe then clearly this opponent has ability.

6. Communication is key
It doesn’t matter what walk of life you are in Communication is the key to success. Great Doctors fail because of a poor bedside manner. The knowledge of a teacher is useless unless they can get it across. A politician that can’t communicate won’t last long. In any job you need to be able to communicate with those around you and with customers. You need to develop it so that others see you as an important part of the team. If the customers like you then you are on to a winner. If you communicate well to your colleagues they are far more likely to want to be an ally. if you communicate well to your superiors then they will appreciate your talents far more.

There is much more to learn as you go. Just remember that its always going to be there and there’s not much you can do but use it to your advantage. May the Force be with you!

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