3 Essential Keys to Navigate Your Political Force Field

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.



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.



Simply stated, your political force field consists of the dynamic interaction of leaders, each of whom seeks to:

  1. use and increase their power in order to
  2. advance and achieve their agendas and to
  3. 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.

Step 2.  Understand the professional aspirations and psychological dynamics of power brokers and influencers.  When it comes right down to it, people are motivated by, “What’s in it for me?”  Therefore, it behooves you to understand where those in your political force field are coming from.  This knowledge will help you determine what is motivating them to behave the way they do.  The objective is to build an informal psychological “dossier” on those in your force field.

Step 3.  Given the results of Step 2, assess how you can manage the relationships with those in your political force field—at best, nurturing and improving them and, at worst, containing them to blunt their influence on you and your team.

Step 4.  Allocate time to (1) help those who are most important to you, (2) convert those who can help you and therefore begin to help them as well, and (3) manage the relationships with those whom you are unable to influence or relate to professionally in order to minimize their negative impact on you.

Step 5.  Regularly review the status of your force field.  There are two types of reviews.  The first is the day-to-day mental updates you will do after interacting with these people or hearing about their words or actions.  The second type of review is an extended update of your map, where you set aside time to think more deeply about what is going on, what has changed, and what is working or not working.  Then you formulate a hypothesis about how your actions or the actions of others will affect the force field.

Here’s the bottom line question for you: What can you do to improve your understanding of your political force field and your ability to function effectively within it with integrity?



Be the Best Politician You Can Be

Yes, I know that “getting good” at the political aspects of your job is going to be hard for some to swallow.  However, when you embrace the three keys and follow the five steps, you’ll have an excellent idea of what your political force field looks like and what it will take to navigate within it successfully.  Most importantly, you’ll be able to lead more effectively, and that’s what it’s all about.

Finally, if you were reading closely, you’ll understand that your ability to move freely depends on the quality of your relationships with those in your force field.  Thus, creating strong functioning relationships—especially with those with the most influence and impact—will put you well on the road to becoming an expert political force field navigator.

And that’s a good thing.

So embrace the keys, take the steps, and up your political game for the benefit of yourself and your organization.


Read another one of Joe’s posts: 4 Leadership Secrets of Alexander the Great.

The Leadership Forge: 50 Fire-Tested Insights to Solve Your Toughest Problems, Care for Your People, and Get Great Results

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