Thinking Like a Politician Can Further Your Career

Jan 25, 2008

Katherine Spencer Lee

Regardless of your views on our country’s political system and those working in it, you can learn a lot from those who’ve found success in public office. The strategies that allow the most respected politicians to move ahead often mirror those needed in the business world.

It’s usually not one particular action that sets apart the great leaders from the others, but rather a combination of actions combined with public perception. Here are some ways to think like a politician and enhance your performance at work:

Surround yourself with great employees. The best political leaders know they can’t do their jobs alone. They depend on a trusted team of advisors and support staff to help them make smart decisions. If you’re hiring effectively, you should be completely confident that those who work for you can not only handle their individual responsibilities well but also provide valuable input when you need it.

Build relations in the community. Getting involved in leadership activities outside of the office can be a critical stepping-stone in your career. For instance, serving on the board of directors for a nonprofit can reinforce your management skills, raise your visibility and greatly expand your network. Community activities can also be quite rewarding personally as you see your work make a difference in the lives of others.

Be passionate about a cause. Politicians who are enthusiastic and committed to the issues that matter most to them inspire people and inspire change. They are also willing to take a stand on controversial or risky matters when necessary to support their ideas. They have the confidence to challenge decisions made by other leaders and actively promote the concerns at the top of their agendas.

Think how to compromise. Great politicians also are masters at reaching agreements and understanding the need to make concessions as part of the process. They ask the difficult questions during negotiations, truly listen to the other side’s perspective and find a common ground, allowing them to finalize deals that are acceptable to all parties.

Adopt a big-picture mindset. Those successful in public office don’t just examine issues at face value. They evaluate all the angles, including the broader impact of moving forward with an idea and considering how it affects the entire community. In IT, the same strategy is beneficial as you ensure that your technology plans align with the long-term needs and goals of the organization as a whole.

Stay connected to those you lead. It’s easy to get so caught up in the daily demands of the job that you lose touch with those who you serve and those who support you. The best politicians schedule regular meetings with their constituents to be clear about the current needs of those in their community and make a personal connection. You can do the same thing by planning face time with employees as well as managers in the organization who depend on your department.

You don’t have to be aiming for public office to benefit from thinking like a politician. As a leader, your goal is to motivate, persuade and inspire those around you, so there is much to be gained by taking a look at what respected politicians do well.

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a provider of IT professionals for initiatives ranging from e-business development and multi-platform systems integration to network engineering and technical support. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations in the North America and Europe, and offers online job search services at


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