How the Best Leaders Navigate Office Politics
For everyone in the United States, November 3rd was Election Day. It’s was day when we got the opportunity to exercise our right to vote for our country’s leaders. Many care deeply about this particular election (myself included).
While talking about politics can get most people’s blood boiling, there’s another type of politics that deserve your attention — organizational politics or “office politics.”
Before you shrug off the idea or claim you don’t get involved in “office politics,” let’s define what the term means. Politics are the set of activities that are associated with making decisions in groups or other forms of power relations between individuals.
There isn’t an organization in the world that doesn’t make decisions in groups or navigates power balance. What I have learned in working with leaders in different sizes and types of organizations is that the best leaders not only recognize the politics in their organization, they are active participants in it.
Great leaders are active participants in organizational politics.
Great leaders do this because they recognize that if they want to make positive change, have influence, and be a part of the solution, they must be active participants and not passive bystanders.
Don’t Ignore It; Learn it.
One of the most popular things I hear from people, “I ignore the politics in my organization; it’s not worth my time.” I can absolutely understand this comment if their organization has more people jockeying for position than working to advance the company forward. However, this isn’t typical and even in organizations like this, ignoring politics isn’t the answer; learning it is. After studying leaders who navigate office politics well, here are some best practices you can implement to ensure you aren’t ignoring your organizational politics.
1. Rely on Relationships
One of the biggest mistakes any politician makes is thinking they can do it all by themselves. Many professionals make the same mistake. Instead of relying on strong relationships, they “go rogue” and are blindsided when their initiatives are struck down or thrown out. Mark Sheilds said it well, “There is always strength in numbers. The more individuals and organizations that you can rally around your cause, the better.”
Start early and never stop building strong relationships you can rely on. As I wrote in Building the Best, “Without strong relationships, you can’t lead.” Build strong trust-filled relationships at every organizational level by being reliable, consistent, and helping others get what they want.
If you are curious about the strength of a relationship in your organization, ask yourself this question, “Have I given my time or demonstrated my intentions through actions to this person?” If the answer isn’t a resounding “yes!” it’s time to make a change with them.
2. Build a Resume of Accomplishments for Influence
John Maxwell declared, “Leadership is influence.” That’s not all leadership is, but I know you can’t lead without it. Influence, by definition, is the power to have an important effect on someone or something. The best way to gain influence is to build a resume based on actions and accomplishments.
Too often, people assume that influence comes from how long you have been somewhere. While this might have been true in previous generations, it’s becoming less and less important today.
Great modern leaders care more about your actions than your age.
The fastest path to influence is accomplishing meaningful things with others. When you play an integral part on a team that takes action, solves problems, and gets results, your influence skyrockets.
3. Understand the Decision Making Process
Decision making is choosing between two or more courses of action. Some decisions are based on reason and others on intuition. Each organization has a decision-making process woven into the fabric of their culture. I have come to define them in two ways:
Centralized Authority: These organizations make decisions in a slow, pragmatic, and hierarchical way. Centralized Authority decision making is common in highly regulated industries with significant financial or safety-related ramifications in most decisions.
Dispersed Authority: These organizations make decisions in a quick, decisive, and shared way. It’s common for team members to be empowered to “make decisions where the information is.” This is common in entrepreneurial cultures or in technology companies where innovation rules the day.
There are always exceptions to every rule, but in most situations, the better model is dispersed authority. You might not be able to change the decision-making process in your organization, but you should be able to answer these questions:
Who are the key people?
What are those people’s priorities?
What do they value most?
Once you can answer these questions, you can align your initiatives and influence to get things accomplished.
4. Be Patient
I learned early in my career, “patience is a virtue.” This week Gary Vaynerchuk said, “patience is the core ingredient of success for most people.” Most people don’t have patience, and instead expect to build relationships, have influence, and make decisions in days, not years.
The leaders who navigate office politics the best are the ones who are patient and do the right thing day in and day out. So do your best to stay patient while being an active participant in your office politics.
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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.