Playing politics or being politically savvy?

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Ask anyone if they want to engage in organisation politics, chances are they will answer with a resounding No! However we hear from many of our clients and candidates that they would like to become more politically savvy.

So how do you become politically astute and engage in politics constructively without being branded as a manipulator, overly ambitious, only out for yourself or climbing up the greasy pole?

The first step is to be aware of your values and assumptions. For instance, if you believe people are inherently good and want to contribute to the success of the organisation, you are more likely to believe in and strive for solutions that work for everyone – that “win/win” outcome. Leaders with this positive belief in people are more likely to invest time in working steadily behind the scenes to understand opposing perspectives and work in innovative ways to combine and satisfy competing interests.

Politics, the good and the bad, is usually learned from experience and can be embedded in organisational culture. An example of good organisational politics can be found in Japanese cultures, which adopt an informal process of “nemawashi”. This term describes quietly laying the foundation for some proposed change or project by talking to the people concerned, understanding their issues and perspectives, gathering support and feedback, and building these views and concerns into any proposed change. By the time a proposal is presented to the management team, participants feel their views have been heard and respected, consensus has already been achieved and the formal approval process is accomplished smoothly and quietly.

Some of you may think: this is not the Australian or Western way of doing business. We are used to openly debating issues and airing different points of view in a management meeting. Well, don’t forget that informal attempts at influencing others go on all around you, of which you may not even be aware. Consciously embarking on a process of understanding the drivers, needs and motivators of key stakeholders and building these insights into your recommendations may go a long way to enabling successful change.

Norah Breekveldt, Director – The Leadership Agenda


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