Like it or not, politics is a key part of your work, especially at middle to high levels in large or complex organisations. There is simply no way of avoiding it.
Because your work was created by political ambition. At some point, someone thought it would serve their purpose if they created your role. What that purpose was, and how pure it was might be difficult to see.
In all probability, that person also had to overcome opposition to create your role, to win the budget, the approval and also, to maintain it.
All of these things require influence, or politics. The words are really the same, as are the actions. The main difference between them is the intent fuelling the action – and the harmful consequences tolerated.
So, you are slap bang in the middle of a political world, like it or not.
To avoid it, deny it, or simply stand and watch it, is clearly an option. And, an option that a great many people take, or rather, fall into. Why, because they don’t like it. Most, in my view, don’t like it because they cannot see what is really happening, why things are working the way they are. This knowledge gap means they become tentative or foolhardy in their actions.
Tentative politicians don’t last any longer than foolhardy ones!
Having specialised in this area for a long time now, I thought it would be useful to share a new structure that I have created that lays out a route map. A way to move from being afraid, tentative and well, clumsy in the political world of work to one of high levels of confidence, calmness and swift and accurate action.
The Six Pillars of Political Mastery
- Motives: You need to learn what makes people tick. Everyone around you has an agenda, and you need to become acutely aware of the motivations of those most able to help or hinder you. Not only the overt drivers, but those hidden beneath the surface in their emotional world. You have to know what people are shooting for, or what they are avoiding.
- Contexts: You need to pull the pieces together. No man is an island, and this is especially so in the (seemingly) chaotic world of influence and politics. What is going on around you is going to have an impact on you, and the same is true of all the other players. So you have to be able to spot the connections, the patterns and the factors that others need to take account of.
- Strategies: Need you need to work out how people are playing, or rather, how they intend to move towards their goals, their agenda. Trouble is, you have to look for the imperfect, the stupid as well as the rational. Why? Because not everyone can see the perfect picture, nor arrive at the perfect strategy. Ignorance of strategies is no excuse if you want to master the politics.
- Conclusions: To a greater or lesser extent, at this point, you should be able to see what is going on, what people are driving for and how they are aiming to get there. Now you need to draw conclusions and consider your options. What could you do to advance your own agenda? How would this impact on the political environment? Will you excite interest, or even, hostile reactions? Keeping a cool head at this point and starting to clarify your approach will yield big returns.
- Decisions: Enough analysis, firm decision making is vital. Being unclear as you step up the action is not tenable. If you want to maintain integrity, build reputation and make your mark, getting this part right is worthy of an investment of time, and potentially courage. Mind you, if you’ve done a good job on all the other elements, you’ll not be needing too much courage, just the confidence to get on and take the necessary action.
- Actions: They speak louder than words, and in political environments, they have to come in very fast. Once you’ve made the decisions you need to execute without delay on your plan. That doesn’t mean you rush things, you just do what needs to be done at the optimum time. Any delays mean that other people will have more chance to move the goal posts, change their strategies. So, swift decisive action is the order of the day.
There is of course a great deal of leg work behind each of these. If you’d like to see a few examples of how this works in practice, take a look here.
Regardless of your level of capability at any of the six, you still have to invest in building the right sort of relationships to yield the political intelligence needed. But, once you know how the processes behind each of these six pillars, you just need to complete the picture, relevant to you, your situation and your goals.
Top Ten Most Irritating Political Situations at Work
Over the last month I’ve been talking to a lot of people about the political problems they face at work. This research was initiated to accompany a new online course I am developing, Mastering the Politics.
What I wanted to do is to make sure it is relevant and solves as many of the current problems people are facing as possible. What the research threw up was as fascinating as it was depressing.
So, without further ado, in reverse order, the most irritating political situations people are having to cope with at work are:
Making Sense of Political Upheaval
At times the power games and political manoeuvring appear undecipherable. An implicit feature of politics is that of imperfect information — not many know what is really going on. And the actors often relish and encourage that. Mere mortals should keep out of the way, unless they serve as useful and expendable pawns.
In this article, I’m going to extend on the previous one in this series (Understanding Your Reputational Context) and increase the ante by sharing with you a process whereby you can apply…
Here, it is vital to be able to peel back the layers to expose what is going on beneath the surface, the good, the bad and the ugly. With careful analysis, it becomes possible to see what is motivating people, and how it affects what is happening. At that point, your level of accuracy rises, your stress lowers, and the path towards your goals becomes clear.