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How Intelligent Leaders Navigate Office Politics
Where there are people, there are politics.
Office politics can bring out the worst in otherwise competent professionals.
Every organization is political in some way, even if they strive not to be. The fact is, humans are emotional creatures to greater and lesser degrees, and we all have insecurities and unarticulated needs.
Psychologist Robert Hogan observed that work relationships are at least partly governed by three fundamental human needs: the need to belong, the need to get ahead or distinguish ourselves, and the need to find meaning in what we do. Combining these needs with a group of unique human beings creates a work “ecosystem” that is to some degree politically driven.
Intelligent Leaders are ones who know how to navigate office politics without either pretending they don’t exist or being enslaved to them. Here’s what they need in order to do that.
Authenticity and Accountability Are Mandatory
Authenticity requires keen self-awareness, as well as avoidance of negative political actions like gossiping, stealing credit, or sabotaging others’ work. Authentic leaders understand personalities and relationships without judging them. Because of this, they can engage with others effectively while avoiding the petty games that office politics can turn into.
Leadership development demands strong self-accountability. It also requires the skill of holding others accountable in ways that are fair and that make sense. Even-handed application of accountability can boost authenticity while earning the respect of others.
Seek to Understand Before Seeking to Be Understood
When we make our primary goal that of being understood, we may succeed, but at what cost? When we first seek to understand others, we gather valuable information. Simultaneously, by seeking to understand, we can disarm defensiveness. When someone genuinely believes another person is trying to empathize and see things from their point of view, they’re likelier to communicate honestly and return the favor.
By striving to understand others, you learn the best ways to communicate with and help them.
This approach is also practical. When two people who don’t understand each other’s points of view attempt to solve a problem, they risk wasting time with mistrust and second-guessing. Seeking understanding clears the air, so both parties can communicate more effectively.
Being Outcome-Focused Helps You Engage without Playing Games
Ultimately, your organization’s purpose is to accomplish certain things. When everyone understands goals and their role in achieving them, they can direct their efforts toward those goals. But when goals and missions are hazy and people are unsure of their roles or what’s going on, the ground is fertile for rumors and gossip.
Part of leadership development is learning how to motivate individuals and teams toward achieving outcomes, and you don’t do that by pitting individuals or teams against each other, or by being secretive and inciting insecurity. Authenticity demands that you be honest with your team at all times, about immediate objectives, long term goals, and your appreciation for their part in achieving them.
Learning to navigate office politics is part of leadership development that may or may not be covered in leadership development programs. But pretending that your organization is somehow “above” office politics is unrealistic. If you demonstrate authenticity, hold others accountable fairly, strive to understand others and focus on outcomes, you can serve as an outstanding role model. Furthermore, you can minimize political gamesmanship by helping your team stay goal-oriented.
Sometimes leadership coaches assist leaders in dealing effectively with office politics. Intelligent Leaders recognize the reality of office politics but refuse to let them stand in the way of fulfilling important goals. Leaders who let politics run amok risk losing control of their teams and wasting valuable time dealing with petty matters. If you’re interested in learning more about Intelligent Leadership, I encourage you to check out my books.