I’ve just started a new job – a position I only accepted because I really liked the company’s boss. He approached me for the role, luring me in with a big pay rise, promise of a step up and a small team to manage. But six weeks in and he has quit following a falling-out with the board. I now feel very isolated and insecure. I still have the pay rise, but there is no team to manage and I am largely ignored by the rest of the department and left with little to do. How can I turn this situation around? NM, Abu Dhabi
Your situation appears a tough one; from being promised a step up, a pay rise and a team of people to manage; to being left out in the cold within weeks. I would bet that the reason you are being ignored by the department is that that you are unfairly associated with the legacy of the previous commander and chief. The rest of the department must still be shaken by his sudden departure and anxious to appear loyal to the board, worried they could face the same fate. The previous chief executive brought you in, and there will almost certainly be some negative emotional baggage associated with him given his method of departure – by default it seems some has been passed down to you.
Whether we like it or not, all workplaces are political in their involvement of people, networks and relationships. However much you would like to wish it away, the effects of politics are unlikely to disappear. Typically individuals align themselves with those they see as influential, claiming support and protection while those out of favour remain isolated. Unfortunately, your key ally has left the game and you are temporarily surrounded by what may feel like stern opponents. Like the last pawn on the chessboard surrounded by opposing kings, queens and knights, you now need to operate more strategically than ever. Rally for support to win people over, and rest assured your situation is not uncommon and is certainly fixable.
When you joined the organisation you may have felt more comfortable having a known ally, but it is worth remembering this was just one person. His departure simply makes clearer the need to prove you were recruited based on your capability, not favouritism. This will involve you first tuning your antennae to the right frequency, identifying the right people to connect with; those who appear to have some influence, with formal authority as without.
Influence is not always entirely obvious at first glance; you may have heard that old business story of the secretary with the power to make or break careers through her proximity to the boss, and her control of his diary. Take time to connect with the trusted voices in your office, and make your experience known to decision-makers. Try to land involvement in a project that could get you noticed. You may not immediately be given the sort of work you imagined yourself doing, but becoming part of a team effort helps you begin to establish your own credibility away from your former boss’s legacy. Be careful not to step on any toes and lose the goodwill you court.
This is a sensitive time for you but also an opportunity to grow and develop. Once you establish relationships you can start sharing your ideas in a sensitive and mindful way, and if you give credit freely you will find that others start to speak up unprompted on your behalf. Choose the right time to have crucial conversations with senior management and appreciate you may not win every time. Keep your area of professional expertise current and aim to be seen as a “thought leader” in your field, as sharing knowledge can provide building blocks for your credibility and encourage those around you to flock to you for information. This also paves the way for you to bring up those team management responsibilities once the dust has settled.
Sometimes a new and exciting role does not turn out as planned, and we become a victim of political waters and find ourselves on our own in the middle of the ocean, with sharks circling. You are facing isolation and need to actively understand the political landscape in front of you to establish some potential alliances. You can achieve this with a genuine willingness to support and work with others, but also with the offer of your expertise and general capability. Pad out your life jacket with knowledge and insight and you should survive the predators and the choppy waters.
Alex Davda is a business psychologist and consultant at Ashridge Business School, based in the Middle East. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org for advice on any work issues.
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