Leadership Talk: 4 Ways to Use Political Savvy

The use of office politics by leaders in organizations to get things done is not something taught in MBA courses.

It’s naive to suggest that office politics are destructive and unethical. If you define politics in such a narrow way, you overlook the value of political awareness and skill.

There’s no doubt that it has a dark side, and done unethically, it can get you in a lot of hot water, even end your career. But it’s the way things get done in organizations.

Think about this: in today’s flatter organizations, you need people not on your team to get on board your agenda. Some of them aren’t under your control. You must influence them without having any formal authority.

Political savvy, when combined with the right values, can be advantageous to you, your team and your organization.

Here are some steps to become politically savvy and build your power base:

  1. Map the political terrain. First, identify all stakeholders — anyone who has an interest in, or who would be affected by, your idea — and how they will react. Some resistance is inevitable. You must anticipate others’ reactions, identify allies and resisters, analyze their goals and understand their agendas.
  2. When you face objections, don’t go to individuals’ bosses or peers to undercut their arguments. Instead, ask them questions to determine their goals. Stakeholders may:
    •    Share your goal, but not your implementation approach
    •    Disagree with your goal, but share your approach to change
    •    Share neither
    •    Share both
    You can identify potential allies and resisters with direct questioning.
  3. Get them on your side. Build your coalition — a politically mobilized group committed to implementing your idea because doing so will generate valued benefits.Creating coalitions is the most critical step in exercising your political competence. How do you win support? You need to be credible. You communicate credibility by letting potential allies and resisters know about your expertise, demonstrating personal integrity, and showing that you have access to important people and information.
  4. Make things happen through leverage. You must win others’ buy-in by making it clear there’s a payoff for supporting your efforts and drawbacks for refusing to join your coalition. Show how implementing your idea will ease stakeholders’ workload, increase their visibility within the organization or help them cut departmental costs.Once you’ve persuaded others to join your coalition, you’ve established a base that will legitimize your idea. Coalition members will then use their networks to evangelize for you.

Getting others to make changes and do things your way is risky. Making your organization a better place is often at odds with personal advancement. You need to be clear about your motives. Make sure you’ve got the best interests of your people and your organization foremost in mind.

You can’t do it without power. Just be sure to create power in and with others, as opposed to using power over others.

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