This is a guest post by Joe Scherrer, author of The Leadership Forge: 50 Fire-Tested Insights to Solve Your Toughest Problems, Care for Your People, and Get Great Results. Joe is the President of The Leadership Crucible and a decorated Air Force veteran. His 24 year career included command of five units.
The Importance of Playing Politics
Ever heard comments like these?
“That decision was all about politics.”
“So-and-so is a real politician.”
Or, consider your answers to these questions:
How has politics impacted your ability to lead?
How would you assess your political skills?
Here’s the point: Even if you find “playing politics” distasteful, as a leader you’re a part of your organization’s political environment whether you like it or not. That’s because any time a group of smart, ambitious, type-A, competitive, achievement-oriented people gets together, there will be conflict of various kinds.
“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” -Plato
In your leadership role, you will experience disagreements, deals gone sour, questionable ethics, undermining, jockeying for position, currying of favor, backbiting, and all of the unsavory things that arise when the stakes are high, resources are scarce, power is to be gained or lost, and reputations are on the line.
In short, this is politics.
The reality is that if you if you want to get things done, you need to learn to play the game well.
“If you want to get things done, you need to learn the game of politics.” -Joe Scherrer
Simply stated, your political force field consists of the dynamic interaction of leaders, each of whom seeks to:
- use and increase their power in order to
- advance and achieve their agendas and to
- protect and satisfy their self-interest.
As a result your political force field fluctuates constantly as power is gained or lost, agendas succeed or fail, and self-interest is fulfilled or frustrated.
Let’s look at what it takes for you to maneuver successfully within your political force field.
3 Essential Keys for Successful Navigation
Of course, the ideal policy would be to act altruistically in the service of the organization with the expectation that those around you will do the same. However, since the real world falls short of the ideal, you must adopt other methods to navigate successfully through the human minefield that is the politics of leadership.
Key #1: Maintain Your Integrity.
Know what you believe in and remain grounded in your values. Although you’re playing in the arena of high-level professional politics, it’s neither necessary nor advisable to sacrifice your integrity to do your job.
Key #2: Realize You’re Not Above the Politics.
Since you’re part of the system, the way you handle yourself and deal with situations will cause the political force field around you to flux and change.
Key #3: Be Aware of the Politics.
Part of your problem-solving calculus and decision-making process must include an assessment of your political force field. Leaders who fail to account for the political situation wonder why their solutions don’t fly and their decisions fail.
5 Vital Steps for Successful Navigation
Completing these five straightforward steps will allow you to map out your political force field, remain aware of your status within it, and take action to navigate it with confidence.
Step 1. Identify the key actors who make up the political situation in which you find yourself. List all the people who control, influence, or otherwise affect your ability to produce results and achieve your goals.