Embrace Power
Get Promoted

Embrace Power

Executive coach and Madrid’s IE Business School lecturer Michael Wenderoth offers unsentimental, pragmatic steps to gain promotions and power at work.

To gain promotion, you must adopt a new attitude toward power, argues executive coach and Madrid’s IE Business School lecturer Michael Wenderoth. He teaches why power is essential for career success, how to gain power at work, what holds you back and strategies for pushing yourself forward.

No Fair

The world doesn’t play fair. Like it or not, Michael Wenderoth asserts, you need a power strategy to reach your goals. Hard work, late nights, meeting deadlines and exceeding expectations won’t qualify you for a promotion. What matters is power and influence – who you know, who knows you and the resources you wield.

Power is the ability to get your way in the face of opposition.Michael Wenderoth

Perhaps a “keep your head down and work hard” attitude is keeping you stuck in a dead-end position. Or maybe you got a decent promotion but can’t handle the pressure. Or you face termination or demotion. Whatever your circumstance, your previous methods didn’t get you where you wanted. So, Wenderoth writes, it’s time to focus on attaining more power – gaining value in others’ eyes that you can leverage. If you don’t, your peers will.

Several incorrect beliefs can keep your career from thriving: that fairness and equality run the world; that politics and networking are evil; that the rules of power don’t apply to you; that your hard work will pay off; or that political and power-wielding skills belong to certain types of people, and you are not one of them.

These myths stop you from attaining necessary political skills, strengthening your network, increasing your visibility, developing a leadership reputation and gaining more control over resources: the tools to getting ahead.

The Path to Power

How do pushy, aggressive people succeed by not playing fair? They have political skills – the emotional intelligence to manipulate or influence others by understanding who they are, what they want and how they work. Such people network to build strategic relationships with people who can offer promotions, valuable resources or connections to C-suite leaders. They make sure important people know about their accomplishments. These individuals, Wenderoth argues, behave like leaders – those who command a room. And they have control over resources – the ability to entice investors, hire team members or access a sizable budget.

They were not always the smartest or hardest workers nor had the deepest domain knowledge. But they had ambition and confidence, often what felt like overly high opinions of themselves.Michael Wenderoth

To gain power and visibility, ask for something, delegate a task, seek more resources for a project or inquire about a raise. Before you make your ask, write down what you want, why you want it and the probability of your getting it. Then, make your ask. Afterward, write down how your interaction went and what you think could have gone better.

If your ask didn’t go well, tweak your request by adding a reason you’re making it; reframe the information you offered – either its focus or point of view; or change your presentation medium. It may take a few tries, Wenderoth states, but people will notice your persistence. With every failure, you learn something new.

Create a map to organize how you implement your power. Your map should identify the people you should network with, how to influence them, and what obstacles might set you back.

Clarify your goal – for example, which role you want – and find out who has the power to help you attain it. Uncover the personal goals, top business priorities or unsolved problems of your identified power players. Connect what you do well with what they seek to accomplish.

Look Around

Consider how your company’s higher-ups got to the top. Their actions reveal what the company values and rewards. You might work at an investment bank that preaches diversity, sustainability and teamwork. However, those who attain promotions focus only on bringing in deals and often break the rules.

Study those within your organization who achieve promotions, Wenderoth writes. Examine what steps they took, who they talked to, how they spent their time and how they presented themselves to others. Compare their actions to yours.

Calculate the probability of your promotion. For example, Marta, a Black woman in a predominately white male company, calculates her promotion probability to be less than 5%. She can play the political game and focus on what the company rewards, but top people might still overlook her due to her skin color. Or, Marta can leapfrog straight to the top executives and offer something of value in a unique presentation. Or, she can determine her value in the job market.

Marta researched her market value and saw that other companies would offer better positions with higher pay. She reached out to powerful women who recommended her for further opportunities. This increased her confidence and encouraged her to break the rules. She approached her company’s senior vice president, laid out her goals and gained a valuable mentor. Marta leveraged her widely publicized customer interviews to catch the eye of the CEO, who loved good PR. By networking, possessing valuable resources and increasing her visibility, Marta landed a promotion.

Nothing happens until something moves. (Albert Einstein)

Don’t overthink where to start. Just make it happen. Consider the challenges you have tackled and build from there. Small, consistent successes create visibility and value. To gain momentum, avoid difficult things, such as confronting your worst critics or starting an initiative from scratch. If you don’t get along with your immediate boss, approach someone higher up the chain of command.

As your power grows, create permanent mechanisms to keep your momentum going. Marta created a series of executive forums where she interviewed and networked with valuable players in her field. This forum added value to the company and gave Marta power and control as its leader.

Candid Cynicism

Michael Wenderoth’s candid – and not at all misplaced – cynicism about workplace politics is refreshing. He regards working for others as a dog-eat-dog environment in which only the most ruthless self-branders succeed. Wenderoth acknowledges that competence and loyalty seldom earn rewards. He lays out a deterministic path to getting what you want from your career and encourages you to strategize. Wenderoth’s pragmatism and call for readers to pursue power run contrary to the advice offered in most career self-help books and are, thus, all the more valuable. Read his advice and rise.

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