To say that successful leaders are politically savvy can, in some quarters, sound like a criticism or a suggestion of being related to Machiavelli (never a good suggestion!).
I beg to differ.
To say that you do not have to manage the politics in any organisation is akin to saying that you can ignore all the other traffic on the highway and drive as you wish.
Fatal in the latter instance, and probably not too far off being fatal from a career perspective.
Now I am not suggesting that the political animal becomes your dominant persona – when this happens a close relationship with the aforementioned Machiavelli begins to become apparent. However, accepting the political environment as a reality, and then positively responding to that, just makes sense.
So, what do I mean when I suggest embracing the politics?
To have the view that if I buckle down and do good work, I will get the recognition and progress automatically is somewhat naive. It may happen, but you are leaving too much to chance. I had that conversation recently with a client who was complaining about not getting the recognition she deserved – in her view.
When I asked her who knew about her good work, her answer was “it’s obvious, everyone knows”. When I further challenged that statement, she admitted that she could not say that for certain but it was her belief!
I asked her to identify those in the organisation that need to know about her to ensure her progress, the only person she mentioned was her boss. “So”, I said, “you are saying that there is only one influencer in the organisation you are depending upon to promote your career?”
When she reflected upon that, the light began to dawn.
You see we need to identify who are the influencers, the stakeholders, we need to manage in order to ensure that our brilliance is seen and valued.
Do not fall in to the “build it and they will come” syndrome. It will not happen.
What I am suggesting here is not some “black science”. It is facing the reality of the world we live in.
Please do not make politics the end game; it is a means to an end.
There is a myth that “if you work hard, you will get results”. That is not always absolutely true – yes, you do have to work hard and be excellent, but ignoring the politics and not managing your stakeholders can make those results so much harder to achieve.
I am not preaching heresy, or the practice of some sort of underhand tactics. My conversation with my client reminded me how alive this issue is.
It also brought to mind the excellent book by Jeff Pfeffer, a Stanford Business School professor, titled Leadership BS where he encourages executives to face up to the reality of managing their careers.
So, if you are not clear about who the stakeholders are in your career, then I suggest you take some time out to identify them and map out a plan to actively engage with them.
As Frank Sinatra said: “That’s life!”
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