Be Political — It’s Actually OK
It’s tough to escape internal politics in the workplace. Right or wrong, they exist in even the most healthy, progressive companies worldwide. Yet many talented, smart leaders have seen their careers go up in smoke because they failed to grasp the politics being played out within their organizations. Since most businesses have some degree of internal politics, how you handle these professional games can make or break your success. The trick is to understand your organization’s “unwritten rules” and then learn to manage the politics without becoming a political animal.
Here are some thoughts that might help you with this common leadership challenge:
- Unlike the company manual — which spells out who is doing what, when and why — the company politics require you to be a bit of a sleuth. You’ve got to read through the lines, figure out what’s not so black and white about the business and its people, and then create a strategy for success. Always maintain honesty and integrity as you develop and implement any plan.
- Talking about internal politics can be touchy because what we’re really discussing is how people relate to one another and relationships themselves. Internal politics are highly personal, emotional and downright confusing, particularly at first. But like any aspect of your business, having a plan for managing the politics — particularly when the games get hot — will help put you in a winning position.
- Be careful about trying to change the rules — particularly if they’re not your own. For example, if you’ve submitted (as required by company guidelines) a report for review to the boss, but the only way to get her to read it is by putting a call in to her assistant, do it and don’t fight it simply because it’s not how things should be done or are spelled out in the company guidelines. When playing politics, pick your battles.
- Manage the politics but don’t be a “political animal.” Truly great leaders don’t get personal reward or good reputations from self-serving, eco-centric politicking. They get reward and respect by inspiring success, which can come, in part, from savvy internal politicking. It’s important to understand this distinction.
- Don’t like the politics? You have options. Learn to manage them, ignore them completely, or leave them for another job. What you do depends on the politics themselves, plus your own comfort level with and skills for managing them. Each decision will likely have its own list of pros and cons, and you’re likely to find inner politics wherever you land. Before jumping ship, always ask: Is the problem with the politics or your ability to master them?
- Finally, when something blows up because of inner politics, it’s like a landmine that’s potentially dangerous to your career. Navigate the pathway proactively, however, and you might find yourself suddenly promoted and supported in a way that’s beyond your wildest dreams. Astute leadership requires the ability to grasp those inner politics, manage them with grace, and mitigate the odds of major destruction.
What have you done to manage office politics?