The Good Side of Politics

Martha CarlsonBy Martha Carlson

politicsThe United States of America recently elected its 45th president through a longstanding political process. As you well know, the political process is often fraught with issues and challenges (to put it lightly), giving politics a bad rap. Before you get your knickers in a knot, let me assure you—this blog isn’t about the recent election or America’s political process. It is about the good side of politics in the context of something I care deeply about—organizational leadership.

Organizations are complicated animals, largely because they are made up of people—equally complicated animals! People with values, motivations, passions, interests, skills and diverse points of view. When two or more people and their agendas come together in an organizational setting, the stage is often set for an unknown outcome—it may be alignment and harmony or conflict and dissension. Such interactions do not need to be minefields, however. This is where the good side of politics, or so-called “political savvy,” comes into play.

Political savvy is knowing how things actually happen inside your organization and being able to get things done because of or in spite of this reality. It is recognizing where and how decisions are made and how decision makers are influenced. It takes time, consideration and strong relational skills.

According to Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichinger, authors of “The Career Architect Development Planner,” people who are politically savvy “work from the outside in.” They determine the unique demands and considerations of each situation and the people they face and determine the best approach to make things work. They typically know who their toughest critic will be and seek him or her out before making a proposal to the larger group.

Leaders who are politically savvy have strong listening and perception skills. They have the ability to size up the situation “in the moment” by paying attention to the climate in the room, the body language and non-verbal cues of the audience, and what isn’t being said, and then they adjust their approach accordingly.

Political savvy isn’t limited to those with formal leadership authority in an organization. One of my favorite reads on leadership, “The Art of Possibility” by Benjamin Zander and Rosamund Stone Zander, suggests that leadership can happen from any chair in the organization. Anyone can learn to be a strong and effective advocate for his or her vision or point of view. A caution, however: Overzealous advocacy for a narrow or untried point of view may not fare well. Those with political savvy recognize the power of a soft introduction, allowing people to warm to their proposals and suggestions.

Political savvy can be learned and must be practiced to achieve mastery. It can be helpful to have a sounding board in the process—The Bailey Group can help. Contact me at mcarlson@thebaileygroup.com if you’d like to learn more.