If you’re not playing politics, you’re crazy…
Bet you thought you’d never hear that from me.
That’s because we have all sorts of negative connotations when it comes to politics.
And so should you.
It’s a dirty business but it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, if you’re not playing politics, long-term, in some way, you’ll lose.
Because, as Peter Block shares in his classic book “The Empowered Manager”, there are two types of politics: “negative politics”, the dirty type and “positive politics” the clean type.
A Look at Negative Politics
We may not have a clear definition on this, but if you’ve been around the corporate block a few times, you would have experienced it.
- Holding back on information, so the other person will look a little silly
- Not being fully transparent about the possible repercussions of an action you’re recommending
- Saying “yes”, when you really mean “no” or even maybe
- Supporting you to your face and slamming you behind your back
- Making undisclosed “deals” with others like the promotions you were promised (but so was someone else)
- Name dropping as pure manipulation, not just to show who else is on board
- Getting real close to you, so you open up and then publicly sharing the vulnerabilities you disclose in private
- Going ballistic with all the benefits, but not sharing doubts or concerns
- Constantly going behind your back
- Straight out telling “furphies”
- “Tough” or “Tender” face, but not your “real” face
- Slowly marginalising you in whatever way you can, to get your own needs met
- Taking the credit for work you didn’t do or were never part of
Please add your own. We’ve all been there…
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
The first thing you have to come to grips with is that politics is a reality of organisational life.
And to deny reality, well it’s crazy, just like I said in the subject line.
“Never underestimate the power of denial”
American Beauty (Film)
Well here’s the good news. There is such a thing as “positive politics”. Where, as we say in the leadership development programme “Why Should Anyone Be Led By You: What it takes to become an Authentic Leader”, you can be:
MORE OF YOURSELF WITH SKILL
Block defines Positive Politics as:
“The advocacy of your own function and gaining support for your personal and organisational needs”
With this definition, I’m playing positive politics with you right now. I’m providing value to you, so you’ll keep the human enterprise top of mind when it comes to leadership development. And in doing so I’m advocating what we do, hopefully at some point, bringing in revenue (organisational goals) and getting my own needs met (my need to support my family and have more personal freedom and choices).
What are the keys to Positive Politics?
Block also gives us 4 keys which I’ll expand on:
1. A Vision of Greatness
This is the starting point. In our Transformational Leadership Coaching, it’s the first thing we do with leaders. We invite them to create a “Letter from the Future” with both their organisational and personal goals. This is the beginning of positive politics, having something to shoot for.
2. Being Real, Being Authentic
This involves telling it how it is. Sharing your intentions and your feelings. It doesn’t mean spilling your guts to everyone. Share your “allowable weaknesses” as we say in “Why Should Anyone Be Led By You?”. There is also a time for personal discretion and strategic disclosure. Even being a little enigmatic or mysterious.
3. A living breathing role model of the values you espouse
To me this is vital. It’s where the rubber hits the road. It’s deciding who you are going to be, not what you just do. It’s being clear and visible on what you stand for (see what we stand for on our website)
“If you don’t stand up for something you’ll fall for anything”
I encourage you to spend time getting clear on your values. Then constantly refer till you know them off by “heart”. With a big emphasis on the “heart piece”. Put them in notes on your phone or carry them on a card in your wallet or purse.
Here’s a photo of my somewhat tattered values card. I carry it in my wallet.
I even have my life purpose below. it’s a bit faded now. It reads:
“To inspire others to lead meaningful and magnificent lives”
What do you stand for? What are your values, what’s your purpose? Where do you gain your strengths and energy from?
4. Stakeholder Management
Again, Block lets us know, not everyone is going to be your “bestie”. You’ll have your fans, and you’ll have your “haters”.
This will be different for every issue. He goes on to encourage you to look at the degree of trust you have with each person, and then for the issue, the degree of agreement. Giving you five categories of stakeholders.
For each of these categories of “Stakeholders,” there are specific strategies. Reading the book is a must for a more in-depth understanding.
It takes courage to avoid the manipulative strategies of negative politics and being the living breathing role model of the kind of culture you wish to create.
Waiting for others to change, or the culture to alter, just doesn’t cut it.
Pursuing your vision with passion and compassion takes patience and huge self-belief.
Yet, it will give you the internal strength and personal conviction to see it through, knowing you were authentic all the way.
“This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
And by the way, if you ever decide to look around for another role, don’t ever tell the recruiter “It’s just too political where I am”. Most will cross you off their list of probable’s instantly.
1. Face up to the reality of organisational politics.
2. Decide to play a positive game.
3. Create your Vision of Greatness.
4. Be more of yourself with skill.
5. Get clear and be visible about your values.
6. Identifying stakeholder categories.
7. Manage them differently.
Until next time…
Find the passion.
Develop the skills.
Make the numbers.
Make a difference.
“APAC’s most respected transformational leadership performance coach”
Paul Mitchell (@Paul_S_Mitchell) is a speaker, author, transformational leadership coach and founder of the human enterprise. Through leadership coaching, leadership development programmes, keynotes and facilitation, Paul works with organisations to build cultures where everybody leads.
Much of what I’ve covered today is often covered in depth in our Transformational Leadership Coaching. Call us on 61 2 9905 5535 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for an overview of this leadership life-changing experience.