Vaccinating Your Career from Harm- Office Politics in Action (Part One): Preserve your Boss’s Political Capital.
Once your boss gets tired of defending you, your future is at significant risk.
Author: Robert A Felberg MD
Topic: Office politics, career advice
Keywords: protecting your career, disruptive doctor, doctor promotion, healthcare career advancement
Maybe you have that one colleague? You know what I’m talking about. Every single time a patient complains, or you get a phone call from the Emergency Department or the O.R. Nurse supervisor it’s about him. He seems to cause trouble, on purpose, everywhere he goes. You can’t even go out to dinner with other doctors without the conversation inevitably turning to him and never in a positive manner. You have grown wary of having to constantly make excuses and defend him. You’re even starting to become concerned that your association with this doctor is starting to harm your practice and reputation.
[Editor’s Note: All medical institutions and practices have policies, rules, structures and culture. The ability to effectively manage these resources to attain your goals, work within the organizational framework, and advance your career is termed “office politics”. Although often considered in negative terms, your ability to use the political structure of your organization to the advantage of your medical career is one of the most vital and misunderstood physician professional skillsets that you can master. This series is presented by physician advocates LLC is part of a series of posts about overlooked skills in medicine- things not taught in medical school. Be sure to sign up for the newsletter.]
Just like you can vaccinate against disease, you also vaccinate your career from harm.
Before moving forward, consider a few things.
- All careers have high and low points.
- The low points in retrospect are usually inevitable due to a series of actions, but you have little in way of warning as those events occur. Signing off on a new physician contract may seem routine, until it turns out your staff didn’t properly vet the candidate and they are practicing without a license. Making decisions and approving plans is part of your job. It’s impossible to know every possible negative consequence as you go through your daily routine. As such, you cannot possibility prevent every failure or negative event.
- Build up a network of supportive and honest colleagues. Creating a supportive network of colleagues is defined as “relationship building” which relies on trust, transparency, and reciprocity. I’ve written about relationship elsewhere and will post more in the future, so please sign up for our newsletter and check back at our blog.
- Developing a reputation of ethical integrity and excellence in work quality can act as a buffer to negative events. Growing your reputation is like fulling a reservoir and is often called the “reservoir of good-will” or “reputational capital”. You act with ethical integrity over years to build a “reservoir” or “storehouse” of reputation that you can draw on when needed. This will be the subject of future posts.
- Learn how to interact with your bosses, supervisors, and administration in such a way as to promote your brand of quality, excellence, integrity, and trust.
What gets me to my point: Avoid forcing your supervisors from having to spend their reputational reserve or “political capital” defending you.
Everyone in an organization has “political capital.” Political capital is an imaginary measure of influence, reputation, networking, titles or position, or other sources of power. You “spend “political capital to obtain resources and to influence others. The amount of political capital will vary dramatically between individuals. The CEO of the hospital will wield a large amount of influence, while a typical physician may have limited power in comparison. As you can imagine, even if she isn’t consciously aware of the concept, your boss is very interested in collecting and using political capital to build your program, hire new staff, increase salaries, and obtain resources.
If you build political capital through goodwill and reputation, you also lose capital by actions that harm your reputation. Think of a popular politician acting as the chair of a powerful committee. Suddenly, she is drawn into a scandal and is barely able to command votes let alone influence the corridors of the statehouse. Remember, your actions not only reflect on yourself, but also your team and supervisors.
Jack Welch stated in “Winning” that one of the secrets to advancement is to never force your boss to spend political capital defending you. You can be certain that your boss would much rather meet with the president of the Accountable Care Organization to discuss an innovative program to improve revenue cycle turnaround than to have to spend 30 minutes defending you for the fourth time this year about the way you interact with the billing coordinators. He’d much rather be using his influence to convince the nursing department to hire three more O.R, nurses to increase the surgical template capacity than having to meet with them about your refusal to follow the H&P policy.
If you force your boss to defend you too often, you will quickly be deemed a liability. You were hired to make beneficial changes and improvement to the department. Now your boss is spending valuable time and resources trying influence others that you “really aren’t that bad” and to give you “another chance”. Your chances for advancement will drop quickly.
Here are some tips to consider as you work to preserve the political capital of those around you:
- Learn the corporate culture. Every organization is different. Certain behaviors like sarcasm, practical jokes, and “witty” replies were celebrated at your last job. They may not be appreciated here.
- Find supportive colleagues who are honest with you. You may be surprised to learn that your “wittiness” is being perceived as immaturity or that your management style is the textbook definition of micromanagement. If the people around you are silent, you know that you are in trouble.
- Don’t make the same mistake twice. The first tine your boss defends you, she looks like a loyal leader. The second time, she appears incompetent and unable to control her staff. Mistakes happen- apologize and learn. Don’t let a pattern emerge, you’ll be guaranteed to face an uphill battle restoring your reputation.
- Build up trust and goodwill in reserve to spend when you make a mistake. Volunteer for the unpleasant assignments. Go out of your way to interact positively, even when you are boiling mad or frustrated. Defend your colleague and help your co-workers when they are trouble. They’ll remember the kind gestures.
- Learn to manage “down” and not just “up”. Don’t spend all your efforts making the bosses and administrators happy while ignoring the rest of the staff. You can sure that the way you treat everyone in the organization will affect your reputation both for the good or bad.
Many times, people wonder why they are not advancing, gaining influence, or increasing compensation. The answer often simple- they are forcing their bosses to defend you. Take time and consider how you effect the staff around you. Are they proud to call you a colleague or do they barely tolerate your immature outbursts. Are you sought out for your sage advice on complicated matters, or does it seem like they are purposefully making decisions without you? Of course, as noted above, this is one small part of medical success. Unfortunately, the negative effects of your actions can far overwhelm many positives.
Here’s the good news- Office politics, like other professional skills can be learned and mastered. Now that you know what to look for, be sure to act in a professional manner that reflects well on you, your boss, and your department. Soon, you’ll gain a reputation for excellence, maturity, and integrity. Your staff and supervisors will look to you for leadership and a growing voice within your organization. You will be considered an essential asset and any mistakes you make will be quickly overlooked. Advancement, recognition, and financial rewards will follow. You will have successfully vaccinated your career from failure.
Look around your hospital. Are there doctors who should be in leadership roles, but who force others to spend influence to defend them? Are there other doctors that have such sterling reputations that you can’t imagine them ever becoming involved in a damaging scandal? Think about ways your behavior may reflect on your colleagues. Improve your professional skillset and consider taking a CME approved course designed for doctors. With the proper training and some hard work, you’ll learn to become a positive political force within your institution and succeed… really succeed.
What do you think? Is all this concern over your how your boss feels a waste? It’s your boss’s problem, right? Do you have colleagues that just aren’t worth the trouble at this point? Have you ever found yourself on the bad side of this equation? How did you dig yourself out the hole? Share your thoughts in the comment section