To bring this article to a conclusion, we decided to comment on the implications of this work for those responsible for senior management development. These remarks may also be useful to individuals who are interested in developing their political skill.
- The first point to draw to the attention of development professionals is that this study produced an overwhelming view that these skills are of critical importance to success. It could be argued that many of the skills delineated are already well known; however, it should be noted that all of the respondents were cognisant of the nature of this survey, i.e. that it was to better understand the nature and criticality of political skill. Hence by participating they were also indicating their interest in this area. The literature review identified that there is in appropriate situations, merit in adopting a political theory of leadership. This being the case, serious consideration should be given to reviewing existing development programmes to increase the prominence of influencing and political skills, particularly bearing in mind that we have identified a lack in this area. This lack may be more about perception than reality and that what is missing is the adoption of the political perspective within organisations’ training programmes.
- Secondly, more effort needs to be focused on developing the importance in the mind of practising managers of the benefits of developing understanding. Although this study did not identify that the actual skills required in this area are not present, this would be a reasonable assumption given the lower value placed on them by the respondents. This appears to be at odds with both common sense and the academic literature. That there is an optimal level of understanding required to be able to make pragmatic decisions is not denied, but developing the skills of gaining the understanding to the point at which a decision can be made to move from analysis to action is likely to improve the effectiveness of practising managers and, as a consequence, the success of the organisation for which they work.
- Linked to this, there appears to be a need for development professionals to engage on the issue of understanding with the most senior managers in their organisations. It was evident that time is not being allowed to build understanding prior to action. This may well be the consequence of their own lack of recognition that understanding is critical, or perhaps that they cannot afford to risk the delay in moving forward the organisation’s results. However, if we recognise the value placed on this by academics, significant improvements in organisational effectiveness and results may be possible if greater attention was placed in this area.
- On a similar theme, the lack of recognition for genuine social skills may be causing a problem within organisations. Successfully attending to this activity will have a strong impact on the emergence of an organisation that has a strong bias towards trust within its culture. As with understanding, there appears to be a lack of value placed on this area, perhaps as a result of time pressures. However, the academics are consistent in their view that these areas are critical to the successful emergence of political skill and, as such, leadership development professionals need to review the reality of this situation within their own organisations.
- Finally, and perhaps most important of all is that this study has clearly identified that political skills are critical to success and has outlined what these skills are in detail. An important step forward would be to take this construct as a base for assessing the level of political skills that actually exist within the leadership development professional’s organisation. This could be achieved through a variety of processes such as 360° feedback, focus groups and one-to-one sessions. The same construct could also be used to determine the different skills that are required within a particular organisational setting, where they are and which skills need to be developed, or recruited as a priority. This careful analysis would provide valuable insight that will assist in developing the success of both the senior managers and the organisation itself.
If you would like to discuss this research in more detail, or wish to join with us in developing greater knowledge of this critical aspect of organisational life, please contact us.