A Mentor Talks Workplace Politics: How to Build Relationships with other Top Executives

Mentoring relationships are the perfect place for rising marketers to have candid conversations with top CMOs and their peers, asking for advice and new perspectives on the tough-to-navigate situations they may encounter throughout their careers. Chances are, if you are having a difficult time managing a situation, others are, too.

In the spirit of elevating their fellow marketers, CMO Club Mentor, Virginie Glaenzer, Director, Marketing & Customer Experience, Maru/edr, and two Future CMO Club Mentees - Michele Fournier, Marketing Communications Manager, Assurance, and Melissa Marshall, Regional Marketing Manager, Clark Hill PLC - shared some takeaways on how to navigate workplace politics in order to build quality relationships with other executives.

Managing your career will often require you to build strong relationships both in and outside of your organization in order to push new ideas, facilitate growth and create lasting impact. However, for our Future CMO Club mentees, it was the former that they wanted help with the most.

To begin, our CMO mentor pointed out that it’s important to understand which career aspirations are driving your goals and why. Are you looking to increase your competency as a leader? Do you want to build a strong relationship with other execs in your organization in order to understand how they think and approach problems/opportunities? Do you want to create a network of internal advocates on your team that help drive marketing success? Do you simply want to network with other top performers, as you move toward the C-Suite yourself?  

If you are like many of our members, it’s probably a little bit of all of the above.

Start Here: Re-Map the Organization Chart

Office politics often circumvent the formal organizational structure, so don’t dive in right away. Instead, sit back and spend some time observing so that you can identify the following:

  • Who are the real influencers – both of people and ideas?
  • Who has authority but doesn’t exercise it to the fullest?
  • Who has the respect of both those above and below them?
  • Who stands out as a champion or mentor for others?
  • Who is the ‘brains behind the organization?’

Then, Understand the Informal Network

Once you have taken stock of who is in the organization, you can get an understanding of where the power and influence lay. However, the key to building good relationships is much more nuanced than that – you must fully understand the social networks to build trust and a true understanding of those around you. To dive in more, look for how people engage and interact with each other.

  • Who gets along with whom?
  • Are there groups or clichés that have formed within teams, departments or elsewhere?
  • Who is involved with interpersonal conflicts or strained relationships?
  • Who has the most trouble getting along with others?
  • What is the basis for relationships – friendship, mutual respect, trust, distrust, manipulation, etc?
  • How do influence and ideas flow between parties and throughout the organization?

This is the perfect time to leverage or develop your interpersonal, soft skills. Listen carefully to those around you, help improve difficult relationships, provide solutions where you can and seek out ways to make yourself, your team and your superiors look good. Focus on providing value to your team and organization, and the visibility of your achievements and value will increase as well.

Additionally, by gaining the knowledge above and truly providing value to your colleagues, you’ll be able to easily attract and find opportunities where your own skills as a leader and marketer can shine.

Finally, Govern Your Own Behavior

By this time, you should have a good understanding of what ‘works’ within the context of your company’s culture and what stops ideas and productivity from moving forward. When building relationships with other top executives, watch those that you look up to and identify the successful behaviors that make you really respect them.

Channel these admirable qualities and make sure your own behavior follows a couple of standard rules that our mentor and mentees identified:

  • It goes without saying, but don’t ever pass on gossip or questionable judgments. When you hear something, take a day to consider and evaluate its actual credibility.
  • Maintain your integrity at all times, remaining professional and keeping the organization’s interests top-of-mind.
  • Avoid whining and complaining. A true leader will look for the positive even during stressful times and looming deadlines.
  • When lending constructive criticism or voicing objections, make sure your perspective is one of the organization and not a personal opinion.
  • Don’t rely on or assume confidentiality. Instead, assume things will be disclosed and decide what to reveal or say accordingly.

Through observation, you'll learn what works in your organization's culture and what doesn't. Watch other team members at work and identify successful behaviors that you can model. Then, reach out to the people you’d like to network and connect with, offering support, valuable input and driving results wherever you can.

For many CMOs, their first step toward the C-Suite began by proactively reaching out and/or volunteering for a project that would highlight their skills and bring more value to the company objectives as a whole.