I started playing basketball in the fifth grade. It was fun; a past-time shared with my friends. Then one day my father, an executive in the automotive industry by day and coach by night, asked me how much I enjoyed playing the game. At the time, I didn’t recognize the significance of his question. But he did.
On June 23, 1972, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 was signed into law. Title IX is a comprehensive federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity. The amendment states in part, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” This includes athletic programs and applies to all elementary and secondary schools, colleges and universities.
Fast-forward ten years and at the age of 17, I finally understood the significance of my father’s question having earned an athletic scholarship to play women’s basketball at Georgetown University. The impact of Title IX on women in sports has been far-reaching and the lessons learned as a scholar athlete have extended beyond the playing field to the workplace. We’ve all been members of a team be it a sports team, a project team, or an executive team. Whether on the field or in the office, our success as a team member is dependent on our ability to navigate the written and unwritten rules as well as the inter-relationships that exist within an organization. And, it also requires confidence.
Confidence takes many forms. Early in my career, I had the opportunity to work with Veronica Holcomb, a pioneer in the field of executive coaching and author of Ready, Set, Grow! 10 Success Strategies for Winning in the Workplace. In her coaching, she describes three areas of confidence necessary to be successful in the workplace:
- Intellectual confidence: The belief that you are smart enough to come up with new ideas, learn new things, and understand the complexities of your work environment.
- Social confidence: The ability to comfortably interact with new people in social settings and relate with other in ways that are enjoyable to them as well.
- Political confidence: The capacity to understand the big picture, the political relationships, and the written and unwritten rules of your organization as well as the aptitude to know where the power base resides within your organization and how to gain some influence within it.
According to Holcomb, all three are needed to deal with the complexities and challenges of the job as well as your ability to work within a well-established corporate culture. While you may have strength in one, be mindful that intellectual, social, and political confidence are interconnected. For example, you need the political skills to deal effectively in work-related social situations, and intellectual and social skills to gain political influence at work.
Understanding and deciphering the rules of office politics takes practice. As an athlete and a business woman, I’ve been fortunate to work with some amazing coaches. Nearly 13 years later, I can vividly recall Holcomb’s tips for building my confidence acumen: (1) find a mentor within your organization who can interpret the rules and offer strategies specific to your career development; (2) enlist a group of supporters who are vested in your growth and personal development; and (3) study your environment—who is doing it well and effective at achieving business results because he or she is actively engaged in the game.
I realize that not everyone is sports-minded and the analogy of “playing the game” may not resonate for some. But every organization has a culture for the way things get done. Take inventory of your company’s written and unwritten rules for presenting ideas, influencing the direction of a program, or advancing other business objectives. While we may all call it something different, it’s up to you to determine how to participate in a way that demonstrates your integrity and credibility.
By Ann Marie Gothard, Vice President, Corporate Media Relations, Henry Schein, Inc.