Working through politics

Many of my executive clients bring this topic up during our conversations. Some of them hate it, some want to distance themselves from it, and only very few of them enjoy it.

I truly believe there is a healthy and constructive way of handling organisational politics which is an inevitable task of a leader. Since it is a fascinating topic for me as well, I have embarked on researching into it to see how others view power and politics in leadership. Here are the seven steps to political success of an executive by Andrew Kakabadse & Ali Qassim Jawad.

Step #1

Get onto the same wavelength of people you are dealing with. Understand where they are coming from. What words they use and try to use their language. See whether you can find common ground at first hand.

Step #2

Map out the agendas that you have to face with, deal with, contend with, remove or integrate.

Step #3

Bring everybody close to you. Get them involve in debates. See what their reaction is and how different circumstances play out. The whole point of bringing people together is to get them listen to each other. This process also focused on positioning agendas, which is the most subtle use of power. You cannot achieve this without curiosity and humility.

Step #4

It involves a shifting of mindsets, which is essentially how to nudge, rather than push, people into a new way of thinking. This is achieved through being personal, by sitting together in informal meetings, by sharing stories and getting people involved so that they want to take responsibility. There might be a manipulative element to this, but not if it is done with the best of intentions.

Step #5

When dealing with any area of complexity, you should be careful about the information released and how it is positioned. Positioning information is a vital and subtle political skill to use in order to get people to think in one particular way.

Step #6

None of this works unless you are doing Step 6 all of the time. This is where you recognize and realize the legitimacy of the networks in which you are operating. You do not push people. Instead you have meetings, visit various departments and have coffee breaks and conversations. During all of this you are trying to integrate the legitimacy of your position and agendas with you as an individual. You can divorce politics from the concept, but if you are not personally legitimized, others will automatically reject the idea. Legitimization through networks is internal and external, which is physically and mentally exhausting. So, you have to delegate to some extent. It is impossible to deal with everything; therefore, you must have a very good team around you who believe in what is happening. I say influence, visibility and network maintenance gives the legitimacy.

Step #7

It is about knowing yourself in terms of the mixed messages that you may give out. It is important to understand the reality of how other people are going to perceive you, which involves knowing how you communicate messages, and what others hear and understand. Aristotle said that you cannot be a leader until you have deep insight into yourself. This is absolutely true! What you say, or don’t say and what you do or don’t do as a leader have impact on yourself, others, on your team and organisation and on the results.

  • Who are your key stakeholders?
  • What your visibility towards your key stakeholders?
  • What is your agenda? Map out of the agendas of your key stakeholders.
  • How will you play the politics – openly or covertly?
  • What negotiating style do you use to build common ground and influence others?

Source: Leadership Intelligence: The 5Qs for Thriving as a Leader by Andrew Kakabadse & Ali Qassim Jawad

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