Politics has a nasty reputation in business… and elsewhere. Many feel politics is a necessary evil, but the best leaders understand and espouse the idea that a keen comprehension of organizational politics is an absolutely essential component to both organizational and personal success. Political influence is leveraged to promote organizational agendas, as well as personal interests. In order to become the best leader you can be, you need to be able to influence from a political perspective. A critical component to the political perspective is sponsorship and stakeholder engagement. If you engage support from above, laterally and below, you are far more likely to succeed. This equates to political influence – and to influence others requires building relationships of trust… and persuading others to follow. That is what politics is really about.
The truth is that just by being a member of an organization you are committing a political act – in fact, you need to influence people on a constant basis. That is how things get done. To influence, you need power – the real currency at work. In healthy organizations, power is granted by virtue of your ability to inspire and provide vision – up, down and across the organization. Your political influence is a direct result of what you can do for other people.
As a leader, you need to quickly identify those likely to support you and build strong coalitions aligning individual needs with organizational goals, in such a way that fulfillment of collective goals results in automatic fulfillment of individual needs at the same time. Realize, without a doubt, that organizational politics is a function of culture, as well as an indication of trust levels in the organization. It will always serve both individual and organizational agendas.
Think of political influence as simply the art of influencing others to get things done – no used car salesman tactics needed. Despite the bad rap that politics gets, successfully engaging in politics requires the development and use of positive, highly valued skills. For example, research has found that those who espouse political power are more likely to believe they have the power to influence people and outcomes, which motivates them to achieve their goals through positive politics. At best, such confidence is grounded in self-awareness, self-management, and a desire to move people for both organizational and individual benefit. The combination of emotional intelligence and socialized power, can result in influence strategies that cause people to enjoy working together toward common goals.
In order to create political influence, you need to take a strategic approach to politics and should employ the following, as appropriate:
- Spend time with opponents: Most of us spend time with our allies, whom we trust and who agree with us… when the people we have the most to learn from are our opponents.
- Never take anything personally: If it is not personal it is far easier to maintain focus on what we are trying to achieve. It is our choice whether or not we will personalize things that happen.
- Constantly reframe: It is natural to assume that it is “all about us” – the alternative is to recognize that much of politics is about people working to get things done within a diverse community of interests.
- Leverage the power dynamic: Recognize that power can come in several forms: legitimate, referent, reward, expert, and coercive power. Much of politics is based on power – who’s got it and how you can use it to your advantage.
- Build on mutually beneficial interlocking relationships: The better you are at networking, the better you will be at organizational politics.
- Focus on interests, not positions: In the interest of finding common ground, care about people’s interests and ask more questions. Why is this person interested in …? What is s/he trying to achieve? How can you help? How do interests align?
Political Influence is power. No matter who you are, where you work, or what your professional goals are, achieving influence across your organization is critical for success. Gaining influence on a team can help you work together more effectively. Gaining influence in a leadership position can make you more respected and appreciated. Gaining influence in a meeting can make your voice more likely to be heard and acknowledged. You can’t avoid politics… and you shouldn’t. If you choose to opt out, you may be putting your relationships — and your ability to influence others — at risk. Get in the game. Be authentic. Claim your right to guide and inspire others. Broaden your group of friends at work. Learn what it takes in your organization to influence individuals and groups. Do something for somebody else, every day, without thought of personal gain. Treat politics with the importance it requires, as well as with all the seriousness and ethical consideration it deserves.
People who actively steer clear of politics don’t do what the best leaders always do — build strong, positive relationships that serve a purpose beyond themselves – they create resonant relationships built as a result of understanding people and valuing what they bring to the table. These powerful relationships are grounded in empathy as well as authenticity and mutual respect. In such relationships, you will come to know what drives people and what they value – allowing you to inspire, motivate, and influence in a way that makes them feel valued and enables you to get things done. People who avoid politics miss out on all of this, as well as on receiving help, benefiting from mutual support, and even having fun. Politics is really just the art of getting along with others and putting yourself in positions where your work will be noticed. That’s not a negative thing – that is simply the smart thing to do.
You, as a leader, need to inspire people to act by creating clarity and unity of purpose, while building synergies through political influence. We can leverage politics to manipulate others… or to influence them to achieve more than they ever thought possible – which one will accomplish more and move the organization forward faster?
Do you have political influence?