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The Hidden Side of Work: 3 Myths That Block Your Navigation

The Hidden Side of Work: 3 Myths That Block Your Navigation
Image credit: Nacho | Flickr
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Whether you’re in your first job or your last, you’ve likely noticed that things in the workplace are not always what they seem. While some of these myths and misperceptions come and go, others can linger and do damage as they cause you to inadvertently work against yourself.

Here are three myths that busy entrepreneurs and leaders need to confront to stay on their path to success.

Related: If You Don't Build Relationships, Nothing Else Matters

Myth #1: Rise above the drama and avoid workplace politics.

You’ve probably heard the conventional wisdom on this one and thought that taking the high road made sense and would be good for your brand. 

However, according to Bonnie Marcus, author of The Politics of Promotion, our avoidance of politics due to a belief that it is manipulative, unfair and a waste of time actually puts us in a vulnerable position. On the contrary. Politics doesn’t have to be self-serving or manipulative. Politics is, in reality, about relationships, and relationships are essential for building alliances that provide information and access to decision makers and influencers.

If we accept the fact that politics exists everywhere and is part of the reality of any organization, we can recognize and re-frame them in a positive manner. To productively use politics to your advantage, Marcus offers these tips:

  • Pay close attention to the written and unwritten rules, as well as the culture and power in your organization.
  • Build a strategic network of people who are willing and able to advocate for you.
  • Offer to help others achieve their goals and, in doing so, gain visibility and credibility.
  • Continuously listen to and observe workplace dynamics as they evolve. Don’t assume that yesterday’s politics will be tomorrow’s.

Executing these steps will not pull you into the ugly side of politics, but instead will help you leverage the capacity of the people and opportunities around you.

Related: Winning at All Costs Is Not True Leadership

Myth #2: Say yes to everything to show what you’re worth.

The temptation to take on too much is a side effect of our over-worked culture, especially in high-demand situations where you may not always have a choice about what demands are placed on your plate of responsibilities. A day in the life of today’s busy entrepreneurs and leaders is marked by constant demands that push and pull them in many directions. Whether from bosses, peers or direct reports, they are called upon to contribute in numerous and often conflicting ways.

The predominant effect of this scattered state is a diluted contribution with diminished impact both to the team and to the organization at large. And while the conventional wisdom may be to say yes and do as much as you can to show what you’re capable of delivering, the opposite may be true. You will never be distinctive if you cannot be selective, so start distinguishing your contribution to make a deeper impact. Rather than saying yes to every request, hone in on your distinctive contribution and be selective with the projects and priorities you accept.

If you’ve been diluting your value and impact, start to hone your contribution with these prompts:

  • The strength that I rely upon most during challenging times is ....
  • The unique skill / talent I am most proud of is ....
  • The subtle but important impact I make on people is ....

Moves like these give you leverage because your impact is clearer and the recognition you receive for doing great work in your area of desired expertise produces more and better opportunities to shine.

Myth #3: Do your job well, and you’ll succeed.

While this myth makes sense on the surface, the truth is that just doing your job could possibly derail you because job descriptions lie. More to the point, your job description only tells part of the story about the demands you have to meet to succeed.

In addition to the familiar tasks and activities in your role, there are countless other challenges to getting great work done. These are part of your hidden curriculum of work, but you don’t have to discover its pitfalls through trial and error over time.

A hidden curriculum shows up any time there are two simultaneous challenges, where one is visible, clear and understood and the other is concealed, ambiguous, and undefined. For example, professional athletes master the fundamentals of their sport and excel at the highest level on the court or field of play, but they still have to learn how to deal with wealth, fame and the many other challenges and distractions that come with professional sports.

In the same way, doing your job well is not enough to succeed. To see beyond your job description, answer these questions:

  • What single statement best describes your role? What single statement reveals your vital purpose to the organization?
  • What tasks and activities absorb most of your time? Which of your contributions have the greatest value to the team / organization?
  • What are the common obstacles that prevent your best work? What are the unexpected challenges of staying on purpose and delivering your value?

Notice how the first half of each two-part sequence pertains to the superficial expectations of your traditional job description. However, the second half probes deeper and helps you translate what you do into the value you deliver. So keep doing your job if you want to tread water, but find your job-within-the-job if you want to succeed.

Failing to spot myths like these can derail your efforts. But once you notice them, all it takes is a little focused attention to recognize a better way.

Related: Silence That Little Voice Telling You to Suck It Up and Press On