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Where politics and promotions meet – you need to have your finger on the pulse

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Reach for the promotion playing positive politics



Have you or anyone you know ever missed out on a well-deserved promotion at work?   Quite possibly there could be a business economics case in it or worse, you’ve lost out to office politics. In either case, you need to have your finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the background.

Here’s how it goes.

You work hard the whole year round and more than meet your agreed Key Performance Objectives. You get an inflation indexed pay increment but that is about all you get. Other colleagues at work who may not have your caliber get promoted up the corporate ladder while you slip into the cracks of the corporate floor.

That dear reader is when Promotion Plateau happens and if you aren’t careful can continue to happen unless you take active measures to ensure you can’t be ignored or having exhausted all options cop out and head for greener pastures with better career progression opportunities.

Quite possibly, you have reached the highest level that you can go for your grade or the company has gone into freeze mode due to the economics of the organization and is only promoting junior staff with the view to avoid attrition because they believe more senior staff won’t jump ship. The promotion may be one of title with no new fringe benefits and an increment that isn’t worth thinking about post taxes but it still hurts because you’ve done the hard work and justifiably expect a commensurate reward.

Or it could be the result of a mean, manipulative and powerful manager promoting his flunkies, a sad but often seen reality in the cut throat corporate world. That’s the one that hurts to the core of the heart, especially when we aren’t inclined to engage in dirty politics and aren’t willing to barter our Soul for the prize. Mud wrestling isn’t everyone’s preferred style of getting promotions and only the aggressor enjoys it.

There are ways that you can help yourself if you find you’ve become a pawn in the political chess game of promotions while staying in integrity with your core values.


Why it’s important to have a champion when politics plays a key role in your promotion


Many of us prefer to steer clear of office politics but unless you have a Godfather or influential supporter who can right the wrongs, you need to know some of the basics.

A true story about how I accidentally found myself in the Champion role

Many years ago, I had the opportunity to assist in course correcting the career of a very competent professional who had run afoul of his immediate reporting Manager who had the ‘ear of the Boss’.

He worked hard, he delivered on time and he took initiative. Yet the rewards were not given and for 4 years, he was bypassed for promotion at the annual Managers Meeting because his reporting Manager had labeled him as having an attitude problem. Since no one else had worked with him no one challenged the Manager.

That changed when he was loaned out for a project to me, a new Manager at the time, who did not know about the politics or this young man’s situation. The young professional’s work spoke for him. Yes, there was an attitude problem which started to disappear as the professional realized that this manager had her own way of working and supported her team.

When the annual Managers Meeting came around, this young man’s name was about to be bypassed again until I spoke up and gave instances of this person’s work. Championing a worthy candidate is the least one can do to prevent miscarriage of promotion.

The other Managers had to rethink it and the matter was finally referred to the top management and Head of Human Resources. There was a happy ending after all.

The professional got his long overdue promotion and was made a Manager himself within 18 months. I’ve followed his career since then and presently he has his own company and is flourishing while the Manager who had the ear of the boss,  from what my former colleagues tell me, didn’t make Partner  for which he had made everyone’s life miserable finally quit the company.


How to get promoted from Pawn to King with Integrity


Don't be a pawn in the promotion politics game at work


There is always some level of politics in any organization that one works in. It may not be as toxic or extreme as the incident in this post, yet there are tips and techniques that can help you keep your finger on the promotion pulse. If you are in a similar situation, I suggest that you try them before updating your Curriculum Vitae and searching for new pastures.  You can also talk to me.


Tip 1: Nurture good and cordial relations

The first and most important action that can affect your promotion is to maintain good relations with your superiors. If possible, maintain this relation up to 2-3 levels upward.

Maintain good relations with your peers and juniors. They count too. When engaging in reputation management, receiving good or neutral feedback from them can negate any spoiler that your immediate boss or others might be playing. Cordial relations also help in dealing with backstabbers in the office.


Tip 2: Make sure you don’t fall behind in your professional development

An often overlooked area is updating one’s professional knowledge. We live in a fast moving world. Ensure that you remain in the promotion race, by keeping track of your professional development needs and taking up the necessary courses and training to close the gap. If the company won’t sponsor it, pay for it yourself.


Tip 3: Don’t just do what you are told to do but do what needs to be done

Make yourself a valued team player and driver of efficiency and effectiveness. Your performance must be above reproach. When your work is good and you deliver as required or more than required on time, it becomes difficult to ignore the work and the worker. If a task that has been delegated to you requires more work, do it.

Make a record of the additional steps you took to get the job done and let your supervisor know that you thought beyond the actual instructions to make it work. In short, be proactive, take initiative. Remember to make notes of what and how you took actions beyond the call of duty and the results achieved. These notes will come in handy during your Performance Reviews and Annual Appraisals.

This brings me back to my post Step up to the plate if you really want your career to go places.

I also recommend reading Bob Nelson’s book

Please Don’t Just Do What I Tell You! : Do What Needs to be Done 

which is also available on Kindle



Tip 4: Take measures to raise your Executive Presence

Not only do you need to do good work, you also need to get noticed for your work. This means taking the necessary steps to raise your Executive Presence and strategically positioning yourself for that promotion.

You and you alone can make a difference to your career. When it comes to raising your Executive Presence, help is on hand.

I’ve covered many useful tips that have worked for me and my clients in . All you have to do is acquire my book Get Noticed! on Kindle. Select those tips that will work in your situation.



Tip 5: Play positive politics

Just as one can play dirty politics, one can also play positive politics. The 4 tips that I shared above will help you with this. Be appreciative of your colleagues and help them when you know you can. Thank them when they help you out. Remember the secretaries and executive assistants who can help you get important meetings if the need arises with the people who matter.

For example, if there is Tea Lady or Office Boy who does deliveries, be as courteous to them as any other office worker. Help a colleague out with their work if you have spare time and can give tips or knowledge to get the work done faster.

Feedback about you can reach the people who matter in the most extraordinary ways, as I learned to my amusement when one of the Partners to whom I reported casually mentioned that the security guard in my office in Jamaica had nicknamed me Sunshine because I smiled and said good morning to him in the mornings.


How do I mitigate the dirty politics and keep my finger on the pulse of what’s happening?


Pig wrestling style office politics isn't everyone's cup of tea


Unless you’re a psychic or have hidden cameras all over the place, you really wouldn’t know what’s going on.  Yet you can be alert.

That’s why you need to be heavily networked within your organization and make it a point to nurture relationships with colleagues both within and outside your department. One good way of doing this is strike up conversations, smile and meet up in the office canteen over lunch. Share information when required and be alert to nuggets that you hear for future reference.

Quite often, your colleagues may not want to play dirty politics or backstab you but if they are vying for the same plum job or promotion, human nature kicks in.

One way of finding out which way the wind is turning is to observe changes in the behavior of the colleague or the person on whose recommendation your promotion is hinged.  Here are some pointers:

Has the boss stopped inviting you to important meetings?

Are you finding yourself restricted with the resources you need to complete your work?

Are you in the loop when it comes to information distribution?

When you speak at meetings or ask for information are you being cut short?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then don’t jump to conclusions immediately. Quite possibly the other person is going through their own tough time and can’t share it with you.

But if the behavior continues and you find more supporting evidence of weirdness and get your finger on that pulse,

You could casually mention the change in behavior to a trusted colleague who may know more couched in terms of concern.

You could also gently have a chat with the person and ask if you’ve done something wrong and clear the air. That would get any backstabber to back off because they know you are onto them.

You could also follow the tips that I share in my post on Dealing with Backstabbers at Work.

If despite all your efforts, you find you can’t compete and the company culture and environment isn’t supporting you, then perhaps you should consider moving on after you have exhausted all options to stay.


Do good work but also make sure you get noticed


As always, do let me know how it is going.


Have you ever lost out to a promotion because someone’s favorite was obliged? How did you handle it? Have you ever been a victim of corporate politics? What did you do?

Please do leave a comment below and share your experience with me or, if you prefer, drop me a line via the connect form. I’m waiting to hear from you!




Written by : Vatsala Shukla

Image Credit: Upward by Erin Childs



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20 Responses to “Where politics and promotions meet – you need to have your finger on the pulse”

  1. Natasha Botkin says:

    Great read! I was in an extremely unhealthy work environment and still healing from what happened. xoxo

    • Karmic Ally says:

      So many of us work in toxic environments Natasha, until one day we have a wakeup call and leave. It is sad that the effects of such places stay with us for a long time and even longer to heal. God Bless You.

  2. Tamuria says:

    I wish I knew you a few years ago Vatsala. One of my sons, a very hard worker, had a manager like the one you mentioned and ended up making my son’s life a misery. My son, who has worked since he was 12 (he started after school in a takeaway shop) left the company – without having another job lined up. He couldn’t find a job for ages which made him depressed. He’s OK now, but he sure could have used your help back then. You have great tips for dealing with workplace issues.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      I’ve had 2 different bosses who made my life a misery, Tamuria, including one who went out of his way to get me fired so that he could bring his favorite into the organization in my place, so I know how your son would have felt at the time. I’ve also seen how my parents felt at the time because they were helpless and could only offer moral support so I know what you must have gone through.

      I was fortunate that I had been working in that organization for a few years and my track record spoke for me while the boss was barely 2 months old and champions were there to protect me. I was transferred to a start-up department where I worked with an amazing boss and while this other boss had lots of complaints against him, he still thrived – but away from me. That is the power of positive politics and why we don’t have to play dirty to have a job or promotion. I’m glad things worked out for your son and I second his stand to have left, even though it depressed him at the time. Self-respect is very important.

      • Tamuria says:

        So true about the self respect, Vatsala. My son’s experience, like yours, has given him the empathy and understanding to help others. Still, as his mum I wish he didn’t have to go through it.

        • Karmic Ally says:

          Parents have a tough time when their children go through troubled times that aren’t of their own making. My father had already retired by then after a solid 36 year career as a diplomat and while he understood the politics of favoritism, the idea that things could get dirty enough to fire his daughter horrified him. Like your son, the experience has made me more empathetic and I try to help others because we know the pain.

  3. Reba Linker says:

    I almost (almost but not quite!) wish I was still in a corporate setting, just so I could apply your wonderful advice. Great post, Vatsala!

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Thanks Reba. It is a nightmare to be caught up in office politics and not knowing how to play the game with dignity. That’s where positive politics comes into the picture.

  4. Anna says:

    This is such a good post with so many valuable pieces of information! Office politics can be so difficult to navigate. I am currently dealing with that now actually and on top of that, I am dealing with cultural differences now too! It has not been easy to work around, but these tips you gave are super useful. I will apply them for the last few months I am here 🙂

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Navigating office politics is often like trying to jump across rain puddles without dirtying our shoes, Anna. I’m glad you are on top of your game with positive actions. Best of luck as you complete your remaining time there and fingers crossed that you leave on a good note. 🙂

  5. Great advice. I never had a problem with the politics until my last “job” and it was quite an eye-opener. The person who hired me was transferred and the new director and I did not hit it off at all. She had her favorites and didn’t even attempt to hide it. After a long career of jobs I truly loved, the last one turned out to be a major nightmare and looking back I realize that I tried so hard that I became someone even I couldn’t respect. Finally, I left and went out on my own. I did learn a lot though – about life, who I am, who I don’t want to be, and how damaging it can be to lower your standards just to “get along” and how important it is to care for ourselves.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Oh Marquita, I so relate to your experience. In my reply to Tamuria, I mentioned the 2 bosses who made my life a misery. It seems your experience was a 2 in 1. The second time, I did quit on my terms and got a good settlement in the process and that was a turning point for me to reflect on what I wanted and how I wanted to live my life. When we stay in integrity people who see what’s going on either champion us or if they aren’t in a position to help, like say they are subordinates, they make it known in different ways. I quit on the last day of the calendar year and my Facebook Wall was flooded with congratulatory messages for doing the right thing for me. You can imagine how bad the situation was because within 6 months, all my star proteges left too.

      We do learn and if by teaching and mentoring others we can help them, then our experiences are well worth it.

  6. Although I haven’t been in this kind of work environment for many, many years, I recognize the “politics” aspect and never played that very well. In the 80’s I was part of the marketing department of a major home video studio department and partly because it was the 80’s, politics was still very prevalent in the office. I love your tips and if I were to find myself in that situation today, I would be much more aware and hopefully proactive in how I navigated the terrain. Thanks for sharing you experience and ideas with us all, Vatsala!

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience with us, Beverley. Those of us who are happy and not trained to be political animals often miss out on the signs until the water is above our head and we need to take action or risk drowning. That’s the intention of this post for the 21st century careerist.

  7. You would think that in a civil service environment where promotions canon,y be made by test results, office politics would not exist. Not so. I managed to survive 2 dreadful incompetent managers because I had a champion in my immediate supervisor & my peers who learned from me.
    The few years before my retirement I avoided my mgr as much as possible. A ridiculous incident that almost brought me up on charges was I had a really bad headache & was told to lie down in my mgrs couch before driving 1 hour home in heavy traffic. I did so for about 20 minutes & it helped. The mgr had left early, office was cool, couch comfy & I took my power nap. I straighten the cushions when I left. The next day , the bad wolf came & said, “Who sletpt on my couch”. Despite being told I was advised by a different unit supervisor she was not appeased. We never spoke again & it helped speed up my retirement.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      I’m so sorry you had a lousy manager just a few short years from retirement, Roslyn. We are able to tolerate a lot and adjust a lot when the conflict is work related but when it comes down to petty matters or demeaning us, then the only way to resolve it is either complain higher up or leave with our dignity and find a new job where we are valued for what we contribute to the company.

  8. Suzie Cheel says:

    Wow Yes I got passed over for a Head Teachers job I had been acting in for 2 years for someone who had to be looked after and this changed the course of my life for which I am thank ful. Instead of appealing which the principal of the college I was at want me to i left that job and set up my own textile art biz- a big risk and something I am now grateful for , xxoo

    • Karmic Ally says:

      It’s amazing how many readers have had experiences similar to yours, Suzie, and then gone on to do different things with passion and purpose. Your story reminds me of what happened to my late grandmother who was bypassed for promotion to school principal because she wasn’t a ‘local’ even though she had lived in that town since the age of 18 when she married my late grandfather. My grandma was a strong lady and she quit. She was later hired by a major steel company there and taught technical Hindi to engineers and continued with her career. Her hours were far better and I do remember that when we used to visit during holidays, she was there with us full-time, which wouldn’t have been possible in her other job.

      I’m grateful too for you and that you found your true calling!

  9. Vanita says:

    Thanks for this post, Vatsala, it could almost have been written for me! when this kind of thing happens, the pain is very real and the situation confusing. How does one stay on, remain civil and also keep ones self-respect, for example. I’d also like to thank all the brave women for commenting and sharing their stories. Do you think we women are more vulnerable to the office politics of others?

    • Karmic Ally says:

      It is a more common situation than one would imagine, Vanita. The best way is to stay grounded and remember that your true worth doesn’t come from the promotion and then take steps to redress the situation and take well-planned decisions that are for the highest good of all concerned. If it means moving on or seeking a transfer within the organization, then things usually fall into place. I don’t think women are more vulnerable to office politics. It happens to men too. Its the way we approach it, our willingness to express ourselves and on the strength of the opponent.

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I believe the world would be a better place if high achieving professionals accepted setbacks and challenges to their careers as Wake Up Calls to embark on a Journey where their empowered course correcting actions create a New World Order that encompasses achieving their career aspirations & potential with authentic life balance.

I work with driven, passionate, talented and ambitious professionals who’ve hit a speed breaker in their business or career create their desired breakthrough reclaiming control of their situation with customized strategies and tactics that deliver results.

When my clients first reach out to me, they are not in a very happy place, needing clarity about themselves, their desires, chosen vocation and what will give them peace of mind. They are drawn to me for the very reasons that I highlight in Who Is Karmic Ally Coaching.

Their professional problems are playing havoc with other areas of their life. They know they need to take radical steps to change the status quo but they also know they need support and accountability to get them their desired result.

I really get it, because I’ve experienced that dark night of the Soul. I know firsthand the outcome of getting lost in my work rationalizing decisions that were detrimental to other aspects of my life.

I’ve struggled with and won battles of stress management, corporate politics, life balance and career decisions to emerge in a place where I can confidently say that I live my desired life according to my personal Manifesto and have created a business that provides me with a platform for my desired lifestyle and self-expression for myself. I want that for you too!

I adhere to the Certified Coaches Alliance Code of Ethics and Standards. A copy is available on request.
1st place BCB 2012
Email: Vatsala(at)karmicallycoaching(dot)com Phone:91 9818517664
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