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Leadership Making the most of organizational politics is one of the keys to good management

If you’re going to turn 'politics' into a constructive force, then you need to grasp one fundamental reality – solid relationships are just as important as your track record in achieving results

Dmitriy Shironosov/Getty Images/iStockphoto

We’ve all seen and heard it: When we win on an issue in the workplace, we call it good leadership. When we lose, it’s a result of organizational politics.

In reality, it’s likely neither.

Whether or not our position prevails on workplace matters is more a function of two other dimensions: your organizational acumen and your perceived integrity.

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These two elements were identified in the 1980s by researchers Simon Baddeley and Kim James who studied leaders who had achieved long-term success within their organizations. They identified that when individuals were believed to be acting (1) with integrity, and (2) from an informed organizational perspective, they were significantly more likely to influence and persuade others over to their point of view.

If you come from the school of thought that says (organizational) politics is a bad word, then it’s time to find a way to make it work for you, instead of against you.

And Mr. Baddeley and Ms. James’s research can help. If you are deliberate and thoughtful about initiating and cultivating relationships that demonstrate your integrity and your understanding of the dynamics in your organization, then you will find yourself coming up on the side of good leadership rather than organizational politics.

Here are four specific ideas to move you in that direction.

Build networks

If you’re going to turn “politics” into a constructive force, then you need to grasp one fundamental reality – solid relationships are just as important as your track record in achieving results. Your professional success will lie not just in getting work done, but also in creating allies and advocates, coalitions and alliances. So you should thoughtfully and deliberately build positive bonds with your peers, your staff and your bosses.

Make it a point to leave your desk. Eat lunch with your co-workers so that you hear their points of view. Set up frequent meetings with key stakeholders so that you appreciate their priorities. Engage in regular one-on-one discussions with your manager so that you can keep the lines of communication open and flowing. Establish your credibility as a trusted individual who can maintain confidences. Make commitments and keep them. And then use your network to tap into the grapevine to keep abreast of what is going on.

Watch and listen

Observe how decisions are made in your organization. Whose viewpoint normally tends to sway the outcome? Who are the natural allies, and where and when do conflicts usually arise? Ask questions of others to surface both overt and covert agendas and motivations. Listen to the answers and probe for additional information. When you encounter resistance, show empathy to try to view the situation from another’s perspective; it will give you valuable insights into the situation, as well as build understanding and affinity.

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This intelligence will give you what you need in order to build buy-in for your point of view.

Help and share

When you give and share of yourself, you create goodwill. And goodwill can be relied upon when you need allies. So lend your time, your encouragement and your expertise without any expectation of reciprocity. Offer to help your peers when you are able.

Acknowledge your colleagues for their efforts when they do great work. Be forthcoming with your knowledge and share your resources. Assume good intentions from others even when relationships get rocky. Step up to support your colleagues when they need it. Then, when you have to draw upon the goodwill, there will be a healthy balance in the relationship bank account.

Seek win-win outcomes

In situations of conflict, actively look for ways to co-operate so that all parties feel as if they’ve achieved at least a partial win. This often comes down to asking questions to determine what is really important to each person. When you concentrate on uncovering what is really essential to individuals, it is possible to find a mutually acceptable outcome that gives everyone most of what they want.

If you consciously focus on seeking win-win outcomes, you will be characterized as someone who is trustworthy and who operates with integrity, and your reputational standing will increase.

Organizational politics don’t have to drive you mad. They can in fact be a decisive factor toward helping you achieve great things. But it will require you to shift your mindset; to embrace it as a positive force, rather than to fight it.

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