Use company politics to your advantage

By Suzanne Peterson Associate Professor of Marketing Although many people see politics as a negative aspect of organizational life, the best leaders embrace politics as a common way of behaving. In fact, generally speaking, the only people negatively affected by organizational politics are those who refuse to participate. Comments such as, "I'm just not willing to play the game," or "I won't suck up to get ahead," are signs the individual doesn't really understand politics. Before refusing to engage in the political fray, remember the most common political decisions are around resources (who gets them) and hiring and promotions (who gets in and goes up). If these things do not interest you, then perhaps you can swear off politicking. However, for the majority of us, we need a strategy. Politics can be boiled down to the adage "It's not what you know, but who you know." So, instead of thinking about your political strategy, which is narrow in scope, think more broadly about your relationship strategy. The more people whom you know and who know you (and like you), the more apt you are to land on the winning side of the political game. The question to ask yourself is whether you have a relationship strategy at work. Do you dedicate time to investing in people, so they know who you are, what your capabilities and aspirations are, and what kind of person you are? Leadership is certainly not all about likability, but it sure helps. Consider the political dilemmas exemplified below. Political dilemma 1: Your boss "suggests" that you hire candidate A, even though you were leaning toward candidate B. Relational response: Don't fight it. Hire candidate A. You just did your boss a favor. Remind him or her of this fact: "I know you really liked candidate A better. I trust your experience, so I'll extend the offer." Whether or not A turns out to be a good hire, you're well positioned. If A turns out to be a good decision, then you did what your boss asked. If he or she doesn't turn out to be so great, then the responsibility falls on the boss for the poor decision. Learning for next time: When considering a candidate, ask other influential people to weigh in on the hire. Then you can go to your boss with a stronger case on a particular candidate. He or she is less likely to overturn solid data from influential peers. By doing this, you also show relational behavior by asking others their opinions. Political dilemma 2: Your peer, who is not as qualified as you, was given the opportunity to present in front of senior leaders. You are disappointed that you were not considered. Relational response: Help your peer deliver the best presentation possible. Not only will your peer be impressed (and owe you a favor), but others watching you will also notice your selfless behavior. Learning for next time: Most likely the peer got the opportunity because he or she either asked for it or was more visible at the right time. Don't be afraid to ask for opportunities and make sure you find out how to be seen. You won't be top of mind when opportunities arise if you spend all your time in your office. Political dilemma 3: Only three promotions were given this year, and you weren't selected. Only those located at corporate were selected, even though that wasn't part of the criteria. Relational response: Congratulate those who got promoted, whether you know them well or not. You will look great and relational for doing so, and taking disappointing news with grace is a critical leadership attribute. Learning for next time: If you don't want to get passed over for promotions, figure out how to be more visible. You need different projects and need to be having different conversations with different people. Constantly think of ways to get face time with key decision makers. If you want something to change, then you have to change something yourself first. First published in The Arizona Republic, April 5, 2014.  

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