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The Essential Leadership Skill - Managing Office Politics

Jul 13, 2008
One of the skills that successful leaders need to master is a bit of a dirty word these days. It's not the sort of thing they offer leadership training courses on, but it lies at the heart of most business relationships. What I'm talking about is office politics.

When we call someone 'a political animal', we're often not being complimentary. We tend to mean that they're manipulative and untrustworthy, maybe even immoral or dishonest.

A person who's good at politics, in our eyes, is someone who likes to score points over others, who tries to scramble to the top of the heap over his or her colleagues.

But politics isn't all about manipulation. There's more to it than that. And whether we like it or not, politics is everywhere in the workplace and a good leader needs to know how to make the most of it.

So what does politics have to do with good leadership? Well, to start with, politics involves being aware of the effects your words and actions have on others. And - even more importantly - it also means knowing how to influence people.

In an earlier article, we touched on leading change as a political process, but let's focus for a moment on your interpersonal political skills in leading change negotiating, persuading, influencing. These leadership skills are essential for success and survival.

In a way, introducing change into an organization is like running a political campaign. If you get it right, your people will support you and your decisions.

How to get your people to accept change:

1. First, set up your campaign team. This isn't just your fellow leaders, who've helped you draw up the plan behind the scenes, it's also the movers and shakers in your organization. You need to identify them carefully and well. These are the people who can influence OTHER people. Perhaps the people that you can't reach. If the movers and shakers know about and support what you're doing, the job will be that much easier.

2. Now prepare yourself. You and your fellow leaders have been working on the plan for a long time. You know how much work has gone into it, and you know how vital it is for your business. Now is the time to get everyone else on board. But be prepared: not everyone's going to like it.

3. Let the debate go on. Listen to what everyone says: be careful not to spend all your time with people who agree with you. Your fiercest opponents are valuable people: they help you gauge the level of resistance, they set out the arguments you need to defeat, and, if they eventually come round to your way of thinking, they will be some of your most valuable supporters.

The politics of business:

1. Find allies in ALL parts of the organization: you can exchange vital information that you might otherwise not have access to. And you can form coalitions, so together you can influence current and future developments.

2. Intervene in the political processes of the organization: share agendas, influence decisions and decision-makers.

3. Make sure you're not simply surrounded by 'yes' men and women. You need to listen to the devil's advocates - that way, you're less likely to make mistakes.

There's more, of course, there's more. But deal with office politics on a project by project basis and you won't go too far wrong. Leadership is sometimes described as a contact sport. It isn't so much what you know as who you know.

So let me ask you this: who do YOU know?
About the Author
If you want the leadership success you deserve, get the leadership training you deserve. Download more free articles and leadership training videos from Steven Sonsino, an international business school professor and author of the Amazon bestseller "The Seven Failings of Really Useless Leaders"
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