The "Micro" on Getting Micro-political
A couple weeks ago, I made the post above on my social media and the response was overwhelming! So here you have it my friends, a blog on up-ing your micro-political game! Before we jump in, let's define "micro-political" so we're all on the same page....
micro-political - The use of formal and informal power by individuals and groups to achieve their goals within organizations.
Being micro-political is a teachable skill that requires specific mindsets to activate your micro-political superpowers. This definition is a great one to break down three mindsets needed to become micro-political.
1. "The use of formal and informal power....." - Mindset #1 - I have power.
To be micro-political you must acknowledge your power. Yes, you have power. It doesn't matter your title, what's in your bank account, your identity that historically has been oppressed, or who your parents are......YOU HAVE POWER! How you own your power will directly influence how you go after opportunities. Being micro-political requires you to be the driver of your destiny and you will have to take risks to put yourself out there. You must own your power and be confident. If you anticipate this being a challenge, find ways to affirm your excellence. Strategies I use are re-reading thank you notes from students/colleagues, meditating, listening to Beyonce, standing in a superwoman pose in the mirror......seriously, it sounds crazy but whatever will propel you to own your power, DO IT!
2. "...to achieve their goals within organizations...." - Mindset #2 - I must always have a goal.
When making your micro-political moves, you must always have a goal in mind. Being micro-political will lead you to engaging with others in positions of formal authority. Their time is precious. If you are clear about your goal, you will be clear on how to navigate the conversation to a direct ask and maximize their time. Consistently wasting the time of others is a quick way to kill your micro-political game. Your goal could be learning who are the key influencers, cultivating a relationship, or securing a new job opportunity. You must consider your context to determine what goal is appropriate for each action but having a goal is never optional.
***Throughout this blog post I will be speaking from the goal of becoming an assistant principal (AP) or principal but feel free to mentally substitute nouns as you read to think through whatever goal is top of mind for you!
3. "The use of formal and informal power by individuals and groups..." - Mindset #3 - I must leverage the power of others to reach my goals.
Those who are slaying in the micro-political game understand that having people in positions of power on their team allows them to reach their goals quicker. As mentioned in my Facebook post above, you need someone with professional credibility and formal authority on your team. Who this person is will be determined by your goal. It could be the head of Human Resources, the CEO, an area superintendent, or that community member everyone respects. Think about your goal and who has the connections to help you reach it.
If your goal is to elevate in your current organization, your principal/supervisor must be the first champion on your team. They will need to advocate for you and he/she is a gateway to connecting you with others in positions of formal authority. A misstep many aspiring school leaders make is going through the process of securing an AP/principal job without the support of their current principal. I am not saying it’s impossible by yourself but it’s a whole hell of a lot harder and you risk creating future obstacles when you exclude them. Imagine moving to a new city and knowing no one. You have to put in a lot of work to navigate the city, find your spots in the social scene, discovering the restaurant gems, etc. Now imagine moving to that city and having a friend who has been there for years. They can show you the ropes, tell you the places to avoid, and point you in the right direction for what you need. Your principal should be that friend helping you navigate the landscape. The education ecosystem is also very small. The moment you put your name out there your principal will get calls. Trust me, it will happen. When the calls come your principal will have one of three stances: 1.) objection 2.) neutrality 3. ) unwavering support. You have the power to position your principal for unwavering support based on the relationship you cultivate with them. If you don't see the potential for your principal to be on your team, either change your goal (which I would almost never do) or straight up transition.
Mindsets are 80% of the micro-political game, the other 20% is direct action. Here are 5 steps of direct action to up your micro-political game....
1. Slay at what you do and don't be messy
People in positions of power love to be connected to rising stars so you must be able to articulate how you are shining. If you are a teacher, you better be the best teacher and not just on your hallway. If you are an AP, you need to be the best AP and not just in your building. Be clear on what the best looks like in your arena and become it. You can't be micro-political and mediocre.
If you are seeking to up your micro-political game, YOU CANNOT BE MESSY. I am going to say it one more time for the people in the back........YOU CANNOT BE MESSY. Being messy is the quickest way to kill your micro-political game. When you are making micro-political moves you are directly or indirectly asking people in positions of power to co-sign on your leadership, to share their connections, and associate with you professionally/personally. No one will do any of these things if you are viewed as messy. Most people who make messy moves rarely have the intention of being messy so let's go over a few examples of what being messy looks like:
- Talking negatively about your principal/supervisor in public (This includes but not limited to the teacher's lounge, that empty classroom after the staff meeting, the group chat, the staff happy hour.)
- Posting professional issues on social media rather than addressing them head on in person
- Engaging with your peers in counterproductive gossip
- Complaining without offering solutions
- Emailing your principal's colleagues or boss without giving them a heads up
If the action will be counterproductive to your goals or someone could question your intention, don't do it.
2. Schedule a meeting with your principal/identified person and gather your receipts
You've set your micro-political foundation by slaying in your role and positioning yourself in a favorable light, now it's time to schedule a meeting with your principal or identified person with professional credibility. If you send an email to arrange a meeting, keep it short and sweet. Nine times out of ten, the person you seek to meet with receives a ton of emails so keeping it short will ensure your email gets read and you get a response. If the person is someone you have not met and you received their contact information from someone else, name drop....there is no shame in it. Here are two sample emails you can use...one for your principal, one for a contact you have yet to meet.
Mr./Ms. XXXX -
I have been considering next steps in my professional journey and would like to schedule 30-45 minutes with you to seek your guidance and support. I have great respect for your leadership and would value the opportunity to receive your advisement. Please let me know what date and time works best for you.
Email for a contact you have yet to meet
Mr./Ms. XXXX -
My name is XXX and I currently serve as (insert your role). I received your contact information from XXX. They spoke very highly of your leadership and I am reaching out to see if you are available within the next couple of weeks to connect for coffee. I am seeking to (insert goal) and am interesting in learning more about your leadership journey as well as any advice given your experience. Please let me know what date and time works best for you.
Once the meeting is scheduled, prepare your receipts on how you are currently slaying in the game. During the meeting, you will need to balance seeking their advice while also indirectly communicating why you are worthy of their advisement. Think through clear examples where you have had a positive impact so you are ready to share them during your meeting when the time is appropriate.
3. During the meeting....be direct and create a game plan together
When it's time for your meeting you need to be prepared to lead the conversation. You need to leave the conversation with a clear game plan so at some point during the conversation you need to have a direct ask. Here is an outline of how your conversation could flow and sample questions:
- Thank the person for meeting with you
- Share your rationale for scheduling the meeting and why you chose to meet with them out of all the people in the world. Your rationale should include your goal and this is a perfect opportunity to compliment them. People in positions of power get more grievances than compliments, so buttering them up is a quick way to get on their good side!
- "I wanted to schedule this meeting with you because I have observed your profound impact within our community. Your impact has truly been inspiring and I admire your leadership. I am interested in becoming an assistant principal/principal and greatly value your perspective. "
- Share the why behind your goal.....this must be purpose/mission driven. This is also a great time to share one of your receipts.
- "In my current role, I've had the opportunity to impact our students and teachers by XXXX. I seek to have an even greater impact in our community which is why I want to become an assistant principal/principal."
- Be direct to seek their advisement and build a game plan
- "I would like to seek your advisement on steps I should take to position myself as a strong assistant principal/principal candidate. What advice would you provide someone in my shoes? What key influencers would you recommend I meet with? Would you be willing to make an email introduction? How should I best leverage the expertise of these key influencers during our meeting? Is there any feedback you have on how I am currently leading? What should I keep doing, start doing, or stop doing?"
- Identify a clear next step for their support
- "Would you be open to answering any questions I have as I go through this process? Would you be willing to role play with me to prep for my meetings with key influencers? Would you be open to scheduling a follow up meeting next month to debrief my meetings with key influencers?"
4. Execute your game plan and cultivate, cultivate, cultivate!
Whatever the game plan you identified, work that plan! As you are implementing, it is critical that you continuously cultivate a relationship with every key influencer you meet. You don't want the meeting to be the only memory that person has of you. One moment is forgettable, many moments makes you memorable. Becoming memorable means they are more likely to recall your name when opportunities arise and more likely to toss your name in the hat. Here are a couple of ways to cultivate these relationships to become memorable:
- Send a thank you email/card immediately following the meeting
- If you feel comfortable, follow them on social media. This is a great way to gain insight into their personal milestones and birthday. Wish them a happy birthday, congratulate them on the new puppy, comment "Great read!" when they post an interesting article.
- Send them emails/cards to acknowledge professional milestones (i.e. "Wishing you a great first week of school!", "I heard the talk you gave last night and it was amazing! So inspired by your words!")
- Invite them to your professional milestones. If you are giving a presentation somewhere, invite them! If something huge and amazing is happening in your classroom or on the team you lead, invite them! You can tell them how you are shining but it's even better if they can see it in person.
- Schedule a check-in coffee to keep them updated on your journey and continue to learn more from them.
- Any time you see them in public, say hi! Ask them how things are going and share 1-2 things going on in your world.
For every key influencer you meet, rinse and repeat the steps! Keep slaying, believe in your power, and micro-political it up!