There’s a particular skill that middle managers who will become more than middle managers learn, and it’s not something that is taught in business school. It’s one of the reasons that we all benefit from good mentors, who really understand “how things work.” This particular skill is the ability to understand the human dynamics of the business, office or industry well enough to navigate a good idea up the chain. It’s a proclivity for “politics,” by which I don’t mean running for public office.
Many people “hate politics” and struggle to master the human skills inherent with understanding and working within the agendas of all the people who can help you succeed. But over the years I’ve noticed that some people, many women among them, struggle even more with this kind of “politics” because they feel like the deck is stacked against them. They want the quality of their work to speak for itself without the need for them to champion it and risk its failure. They want to win every time.
But “politics,” competitiveness and working the personal agendas is part of leadership and in the end it generally makes for a better idea.
Good Ideas Aren’t Enough To Make Great Leaders
If you’ve ever sat there looking at the dry husk of your stupendous, innovative, world-changing, amazing idea wondering what went wrong, you may have run into this challenge. Sometimes it’s enough to make you want to give up, but I hope you won’t. I hope you’ll take a fresh look at the process and realize that leaders who achieve meaning, success and joy in their careers master the process of packaging and pitching innovative ideas through the inevitable – and necessary – gauntlet of criticism and competition. Once they make it over the coals a few times, they’ve earned the right to keep shepherding good ideas, many of which aren’t even their own. This journey works in the smallest of settings to the biggest. The gauntlet to success is an essential part of every leader’s success.
I have a client on the brink of this realization, a very senior executive working to get ready to move into the big leagues. Exhausted by managing the details, she fights the politics and wishes “rational” minds prevailed. I’m working to help her understand the tremendous opportunity she has to master the process of packaging and pitching good ideas will catapult her up a level quickly if she can accept and embrace the process.
3 Reasons You Want To Run The Gauntlet
Here are three reasons why the painful and harrowing pitch journey through the political layers of the process can help my client – and you.
- Business innovation must survive its trial-by-fire to achieve credibility. To bring an innovation into reality, you need others’ resources on your side. For people to allocate resources (their support, their dollars or their time), they have to believe in it. Until they run their own traps on it, they feel at risk because they know others they pitch it to will do the same, so you have to let them try to take it down and help them convince themselves the risk is worth it. Yes, sometimes it’s their egos and competitive instincts driving their passion to trounce your baby, but that goes with the territory. (And if their egos are bugging you, it’s a good idea to check your own.)
- “Great” can always be improved. No matter how smart you and your team may be, there’s no idea out there that can’t be better, and the faster you get your own ego out of the way the more quickly it will improve. As others work to find its weaknesses, you receive valuable input to strengthen your brilliant idea and get it ready for the big leagues, where more powerful forces (e.g., customers and analysts) will aim the big guns at it. Make it bullet proof in testing because on the battlefield you probably won’t get a second chance.
- You’re the best idea out there. We tend to get attached to the ideas and innovations outside ourselves – the proposal, the product or the process – but in the vast scheme of things, those are a dime a dozen. How many brilliant ideas have you had that end up coming to market about the time you dream them up? (Me? Hundreds.) Learn the process so you gain enough credibility to get your good ideas evaluated quickly and to gain personal influence in the process. That’s how you can achieve more meaning, impact and joy in your work than one brilliant idea will ever accomplish for you all by itself. (If one brilliant idea were enough, Google would be able make up its mind about who invented the paperclip – todays’ search identified at least four folks above the fold.)
My client recently made a breakthrough. She took a brief respite from fighting the political dragons to advance her proposals in her own company and attended an industry forum. Because she’d gotten so good at pitching, re-pitching, and running the gauntlet in her own company, she was able to handle the sticky issues and substantive quagmires on the sectoral stage with ease. As a result, she quickly gained credibility at the forum and was invited to chair an important committee evaluating critical legislation that could affect her company’s standing with its most important customer base. Returning to her company with this plumb assignment impressed her superiors and she received resources to handle the sector assignment without jeopardizing her internal projects.
If everyone had given her an easy pass in the company, she admitted with hindsight, she wouldn’t have had the skills to manage so adeptly on the larger forum. Reluctantly, she admitted that the death of a few “great” ideas along the way was worth it to help her hone her pitching skills and achieve a level of personal influence that afforded her greater success and more opportunity to “cause trouble on a grand scale.”
By contrast, a friend of mine was so inept at pitching his idea to his best friend (who ran the company that could make millions on it) all the friendship in the world couldn’t help him land the deal.
Do you have an amazing, great, fantastic, sure-to-be-the-next-paperclip idea of your career? Let me help you avoid my friend’s fate. Download a free idea-pitching template to help you out.