You pride yourself on your productivity. You show up at work in the morning and start straight in on the to-do list. You block out all distractions. At 5 o’clock you’re done—and zip out.
Yet as you look around, you notice that people who seem to be far less efficient are getting tapped for leadership roles first. What’s going on?
The answer, says Bonnie Marcus, author of the recent book The Politics of Promotion, is that it is quite possible to be too “efficient” about work. “I think we come out of school knowing that we did really well by buckling down and doing the work, maybe doing some extra work, and that’s how we got the good grades,” she says. But “academic success doesn’t necessarily translate into career success.” When it comes to advancement, “it’s not just the work, it’s who do I know, and who do I need to know.”
If you’ve been skipping the leisurely lunches with colleagues in order to get your work done, that may sound unfair. So Marcus recommends a mindset shift. Leadership isn’t just about being the best at the “stuff” of your job. It’s about having people know and trust you. That only happens when you take the time to get to know them. “Politics does have very negative connotations, unfortunately,” she says. But instead of bemoaning the politics, you can choose to view your job description as both the assigned tasks, and the process of building relationships, particularly with champions and allies. Think of it as moving from the mindset of having a job to having a career.
How can you go about doing that? Don’t claim you don’t have time for socializing. “We tend to use the time constraints as an excuse,” says Marcus. You don’t have to go to happy hours nightly. No one wants to go to happy hours nightly, even if their only time constraints involve caring for houseplants. One or two events a month is enough to keep you in the game if you’re strategic about talking to people who have influence over your career. Prioritize talking with people who have been promoted about their journeys, and people in gatekeeper roles. Mentoring is also a bonus: Showing you can nurture other people’s talents provides evidence that you’ll do this well higher up the ladder.
You can also make time to build relationships during the workday. Marcus suggests being disciplined about scheduling one lunch or coffee per week with someone you’d like to get to know. You can afford to take one hour out of 40 (or more) away from your regular tasks, especially if it will make work more enjoyable, and help your long-term career goals.
Finally, unlike in school where the professor could see, clearly, who turned in what, your boss doesn’t necessarily know how much you’re accomplishing unless you mention it. “We assume that people get it,” says Marcus. People often feel that “somebody will recognize them by their work. But then they remain invisible, under the radar screen.” She recommends using regularly scheduled one-on-one time to highlight your accomplishments, or schedule time if your boss hasn’t. Yes, that takes time away from efficiently doing your work. But in the long run, it doesn’t matter how efficient you are if nobody knows about it.