How to be a politician at work

Loathe as I am to admit it, politics at work is unavoidable – and everyone, regardless of how opposed they are to its existence, participates. However, this Forbes article “Why You Have To Be A Politician At Your Job” really gives a surprisingly balanced justification for why and how you should participate in the politics of your workplace.

My key takeaways:

  • Workplace politics is present in all organizations and probably always will be.
  • Avoiding or ignoring it limits you and your organization. To be an effective leader you must acknowledge political reality in your organization and develop your political skill.
  • Workplace politics is a skill and, therefore, is neutral.
  • Workplace politics is defined as the ability to understand and effectively influence others for personal or organizational benefit.
  • Politics does not have to be a zero-sum game, so good political skill can bring positive results for all parties, allowing people to tailor their behavior to particular contexts and people and helping organizations unlock their potential. Leaders continually need to adjust to different people and situations, particularly in this economically rocky time. Politically skilled people know how to do that. They can diagnose a situation and adjust their behavior accordingly. They can also rally support for their views because their peers typically perceive them as more competent than leaders who lack political skills.
  • A lack of political skill can have serious consequences both for leaders and their entire organizationsManagers who are not politically astute run the risk of being demoted, fired or otherwise slipping off their intended career tracks, inevitably leading to real disruptions in personnel charts and organizational performance. We’ve found that the less politically skilled managers are, the more likely they are to have problems with interpersonal relationships and with building and leading a team. That means they’re more likely to damage their careers, since CCL research has also shown that poor interpersonal skills are the biggest reason promising leaders’ careers go off course.
  • Here’s an important paradox: If you have political skill, you appear not to have it. That’s because skillful political behavior usually comes across as genuine, authentic, straightforward and effective. Leaders who aren’t politically skilled, on the other hand, end up looking manipulative or self-serving.
Politically skilled leaders are masters in 6 crucial areas: social astuteness, interpersonal influence, networking ability, apparent sincerity, thinking before speaking, and managing up.
  1. Get your cues right. Socially astute managers are well-versed in social interaction. In social settings they accurately assess their own behavior as well as that of others. Their strong powers of discernment and high self-awareness contribute to their political effectiveness.
  2. Influence effectively. Managers who are effective influencers have good rapport with others and build strong interpersonal relationships. They also tend to have a better understanding of broader situations and better judgment about when to assert themselves. That, in turn, creates better relationships. Skilled influencers are not usually overtly political. They are seen as competent leaders who play the game fairly. Their graceful political style is taken as a positive, not negative, force within the organization.
  3. Network well. Skilled networkers build friendships and working relationships by garnering support, negotiating and managing conflict. They know when to call on others and are seen as willing to reciprocate.
  4. Be sincere. Politically skilled individuals display high levels of integrity, authenticity, sincerity and genuineness. They really are–and also are viewed as–honest, open and forthright, inspiring trust and confidence.
  5. Think before you speak. Politically skilled managers are careful about expressing feelings. They think about the timing and presentation of what they have to say.
  6. Manage up–and down. Leaders need to skillfully manage up by communicating with their bosses and keeping higher-ups informed. But this can become a double-edged sword; research shows that the people who are most skilled at managing up tend not to invest enough energy in building and leading their teams. True political skill involves relationships with teammates and direct reports as well as higher-ups.
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