Can you develop an appreciation for office politics? Most people I speak with may not think so until I share a glass half-full view instead of an empty glass perspective. Of course, much depends on whether you take steps to learn from different environments and the people dynamics that come with your experience.
1) Power Dynamics
Learning about the different ways that people wield power can provide you with insight into the psychology of leadership. Do people you work with exhibit Soft Power, Hard Power or a mix of both—a Hybrid of Power in what Joseph Nye refers to as “smart power”?
Soft power rests on one’s ability to shape the preferences of others. Hard power depends on threats, intimidation and bullying, rewards, hiring, firing or demoting others, promotions and compensation.
Anthony Mayo and Nitin Nohria explain that neither hard or soft power is better, or that an inspirational or a transactional style is the answer, but that it’s important to understand how to combine these power resources and leadership styles in different contexts.
2) Speaking Truth to Power
One of the earliest skills that I strengthened as a change consultant was learning how to diplomatically speak truth to power. I once worked with a Sr. Director whose caustic style likely contributed to holding her back from a promotion to VP even though she was one of the best strategists / operational gurus around. Her staff was fearful of attracting her wrath and, thus, chose to take few risks and spent most of their day playing below the radar. This was unfortunate because she had so much to share with this developing team. On top of that, she wouldn’t be able to move up without a strong successor who could speak truth to power—with her.
Working with people in power means meeting them on a real level where they recognize something in themselves in you.
This executive preferred to debrief with me at the end of a full day of meetings and decisions, and although this meant extending my day a bit longer, I discovered that this was really the best time for having our difficult conversations. I sought openings for stating my case, planting seeds of change with her, and taking advantage of coachable moments throughout the work day. This investment resulted in stronger bonds with her direct reports and positive changes that over a year opened the door to her well-deserved promotion.
3) Practicing Leadership
Asserting leadership not rebelliousness means understanding the difference between progressiveness and radical intervention. By modeling progressive behavior and leadership you’re honoring tradition, which is a surefire way to build trust and to sustain it over time with stakeholders, colleagues and those impacted by change within the organization.
Leadership is different from day-to-day management. Putting yourself out in front can be a bit nerve-wracking and requires that you develop your courage muscles to pull it off. Begin by exploring what you're most passionate about and where you would like to see change occur.
4) Taking Risks
Office politics can force you out of your comfort zone and although this is rarely anyone’s first preference, it can benefit you over time if you step up to the challenge of finding your own voice and discovering how to share it with others.
It's better to develop your own courage instead of having someone force you to face what you've been denying.
5) Pivoting with a Vengeance
A big part of managing projects and changes associated with any project these days is deftly pivoting before you’re required to do so. Part intuition and part planning the dynamics of office politics force you to have back-up plans for organizational shake-ups, budget cuts, shifts in strategy, and unforeseen events like disruptive innovations.
Here's a link to a recent post that includes an infographic on 10 Ways to Pivot with a Vengeance.
6) Accelerating Your Reinventions
You learn the importance of self-reinvention when a disrupted workplace might be around the next corner. Perhaps, you discovered the pain of complacency during the last reorg or the impact of a reduction in workforce when you were hit by a downsizing experience or missed it by a hair.
Learning how to reinvent before you need to--reinventing in front of the curve--is the smarter way to manage your career, one of the reasons why we created our online course 30 Day Career Reinvention.
Be sure to check out our Seeding Change membership special. We're offering 50% off of our regular, monthly fees during your first three months. This deal expires February 1--hurry! Check out our current training courses and get a sneak peek at what's coming down the pike in 2019!