Is Your Boss a Bernie or a Biden?

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Apr 24, 2020

There are politics. And then there are office politics.

We watch the former from afar – absorbed or disgusted; involved or dismissive; charged up or opted out. We can invite politics in, or kick them out. l. Laws impact all of us but politics? That’s almost a contact sport – and one we can avoid if we choose to.

But office politics? That’s something you ignore at the risk of your career, team, and business. Yet we’re so good at doing just that – especially remarkable given that it’s the elephant in the room that everyone knows about, but no one wants to talk about.

Right this very minute, we’re living in a time of loud and persistent politics. From Washington D.C. to state governors to your colleague who’s after the same promotion you are – it’s everywhere. Noisy, demanding, ever-present.

So, what can we learn from the rough and tumble of “retail politics” that can help us navigate our workplace?

Plenty, actually.

Like skilled politicians, you have many stakeholders who influence your reputation and success. In their case, it’s donors, lobbyists, voters, different officials, and more. For you, it’s customers, team members, peers, and most important of all – your boss.

Politics is a great place to figure out personality type. Without casting a vote, let’s use Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden as two examples of managers you might have to deal with at some point in your career.

The Bernie: passionate, consistent, driven, hardworking, and expressive. These managers can be stubborn and fixated on their own point of view without apparent interest in soliciting divergent points of view. Also, they have a group of ardent loyalists who follow them from organization to organization. Neither conflict-averse or conflict loving – except when you want to follow your own agenda rather than theirs. They’ll support you completely if you are fully on board with their direction and program. Also, these managers manage down well but struggle to manage up. Lastly, they have the grudging respect of their peers but are not the ones who actively network to build new relationships and wider support.

How do you succeed working for a Bernie? Be crystal clear in knowing their priorities and do everything you can to execute against them. You can bring them problems, but be sure that the suggested solution fits within their business world view. Also, it would be wise to develop and mentor others with the same passion they show. Don’t be afraid to be bold in your ideas and showcase your own ideas about change and disruption.

The Joe: down to earth, easy-going, approachable. An incrementalist, they are more likely to settle for small steps rather than large scale change initiatives. They favor diplomacy and collaboration and want to hear everyone’s voice. Yet they may take their time in reaching decisions and spend so much effort in building internal networks and coalitions that the final result is less overwhelming than the distance they had to go to get there. These managers know your name and walk around the halls, yet are subject to piques of temper if he or she senses disrespect towards him or the organization. They’ll use humor to diffuse tension yet can be hesitant to “slay dragons” or rock the boat.

How do you succeed working for a Joe? Demonstrate that you work through others and have solicited suggestions from all involved parties. You should know enough facts to indicate that you’ve done your research, but don’t feel obligated to cross every t and dot every i. Also, be sure to present the impact of your ideas and what resources it will take to implement them.

Politics are everywhere – and they have a lot to teach us. Looking at candidates can show us a lot about human behavior and how people want to be led. Use this knowledge to figure out your own leader – once you know how they like to lead, you’ll be a lot more successful in managing them.