WHY GREAT LEADERS ARE ALSO GREAT POLITICIANS
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WHY GREAT LEADERS ARE ALSO GREAT POLITICIANS

The Career Conversation
Updated Jun 19, 2024
Course Description

Like any organisation involving human beings, there are politics at play in all businesses. Managing office politics is a valuable skill for every employee.

MANAGING DIFFERENT PEOPLE IS WHAT SETS GOOD LEADERS APART

For those in leadership positions, or those hoping to move into them, political challenges are an unavoidable part of the job. This guide will help you navigate them successfully.

WHAT IS POLITICAL SAVVY?

It won’t be listed in a job description, neither will ‘an ability to deal with office politics’. But phrases such as: ‘being able to navigate your way through a complex organisation’ and ‘influencing skills’ indicate a role will require some political savvy. At heart it is the art of using your knowledge and understanding of an organization and its people to get things done.

The dynamics of workplace politics are constantly changing as organizations shift to flatter structures, fewer leaders, an increasing use of technology and greater collaboration. But leaders don’t generally rise to the top without understanding how to utilize the politics at play within their company to their advantage. We want to help you do this.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

Research has found that political awareness will have a bigger impact on your career than your qualifications or the hours you work. Research has also found that being strategic about how you network within your business can lead to a higher income and faster career progression. And the broader your professional networks, the better.

So, if you’ve ever wondered why other people are progressing through the ranks quicker than you – political skill is likely to be a factor. When managers evaluate talent and create succession plans, it is likely your political skill will have a significant influence on determining how far they feel you can go up the ladder.

How you perform in your role is obviously important, but it’s not always enough to get you a promotion. Influencing and persuading people is an essential part of many jobs and until you’ve mastered the politics of getting things done, you probably haven’t mastered your role.

ALWAYS KEEP THE POLITICS POSITIVE

There’s a difference between being politically skilled and being political. Underhand political manoeuvres, or bitchy gossip, can disrupt the smooth running of an organization, but possessing politic skill – the ability to connect with and influence other people – will make you an effective leader.

Studies around this subject bring up recurring themes. They associate politically savvy people with authenticity, fairness, awareness of themselves and others and the ability to listen, attributes which help them build relationships that boost their careers and drive businesses to achieve their aims.

HOW CAN YOU IMPROVE YOUR POLITICAL SAVVY?

So now you know what attributes politically savvy people possess, how do you get them? First of all work out your strengths and weaknesses by taking an assessment such as the Political Skills Inventory. Once you know them, you can determine where to focus your efforts. Here are some key considerations:

Be authentic
Probably the most important aspect of political savvy is that it you are perceived as genuine. Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. If you try too hard to be nice, for instance, people will see through it and doubt your authenticity.

Good leaders genuinely want to help people perform to their best and aren’t afraid to give constructive feedback and have difficult conversations on the way. And colleagues will take what you say on board if they trust you.

Slowly build your reputation for authenticity with these small steps:

  • Ask a trusted mentor or colleague for honest feedback about how you are perceived at work. Do your colleagues consider you authentic?
  • Be reliable. Always doing what you say you will do.
  • Be upfront and transparent in your communications with others.
  • Don’t be afraid to let people see some of the real you and share a little about yourself outside of work.
  • Get to know colleagues and their lives outside work.
  • Don’t micromanage. Empower you team by showing them that you trust them.
  • Be humble and praise the contribution of others, but don’t let other people take all the credit for your achievements.
  • Take responsibility when you make a mistake. Often, acknowledging an error is the easiest way for everyone to move forward.
  • Try not to get sucked into the negative gossip often associated with office politics. Keep to the facts and don’t take sides. Position yourself as someone who will listen, but ultimately wants to get things done.
  • Ask lots of questions and listen to what others have to say. People like knowing they have been heard.
  • Treat everyone as equals. As others progress they will remember how you treated them and may, one day, help your cause. And if you are perceived as someone who is good to work with, you will have a more compelling case for promotion.

BECOME AN INFLUENCER

Since the aim of politics is to influence others, becoming an influencer at work is essential.

  • Start by identifying who the key influencers and decision makers are within the business and observe how they get things done. For example do they take a formal or an informal approach?
  • Stay connected to the key goals of the business. If your agenda doesn’t support them, it won’t get you very far.
  • Know when to push your agenda and when to hold back.
  • When pushing your agenda work out who will be impacted, whether positively or negatively. Who is likely to have an opinion, who are the formal and informal influencers and decision makers and who is likely to support you and champion your cause? You can then engage with them up front and plan for any obstacles you are likely to face.
  • Gather support for initiatives you want to implement before you start them, address concerns early and make sure there is an appetite for it. You don’t want to be hearing objections for the first time when you are pitching your idea to the leadership team. Modify your agenda if necessary and utilize your supporters to influence any objectors.

BUILD AWARENESS

Once you have effectively mapped the key decision makers and influencers across your business, you can start working out their motives and the motives of your peers. This puts you in a position to negotiate outcomes that are positive for everyone.

To do this you may need to help those who are stalling your progress achieve what they want before you can move forward. Consider roadblocks as collaborators who you need to listen to.

Resist the urge to try to convince people you are right. Instead ask lots of questions – people are more likely to buy into your vision if they believe you have listened to them. You can then tailor your approach so that it benefits them too.

BUILD YOUR NETWORKS

Organizational politics is an ever-changing landscape – people leave, companies restructure and new people are hired – so it’s important you develop networks across the business, not just within your division. The most effective leaders expose themselves to a wide range of viewpoints and ways of thinking, getting to know all aspects of a company. Also, make an effort to network with the more politically savvy people within your organisation so you can observe and learn from them.

It’s important to maintain these networks. Don’t get in touch with people only when you want something from them. If you keep in regular contact and spare time for them, they are more likely to reciprocate when you need a favour. And don’t be afraid to ask them for help when the time comes.

Finally, don’t forget to manage up as well as down. Your manager is in a more senior position than you are, so make sure they are a supporter and will push your cause at a higher level.

JUST LIKE MOST THINGS, PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT

Political savvy is a competency like any other, so it can be learnt. Once you understand that becoming a successful leader requires a degree of political skill you can begin to develop yours using the strategies we’ve mentioned.

Of course, it isn’t for everyone. If you’d rather fly under the radar, advanced leadership might not be the right thing to strive for. And if you’re consistently struggling to get things done, you may want to change how you’re playing the political game.

FIVE THINGS TO REMEMBER:

  1. Build political awareness and skills to boosts your career
  2. Take a political skills assessment to determine your strengths and weaknesses
  3. Be authentic
  4. Be a keen listener
  5. Develop diverse but relevant networks