The term office politics is laden with negative connotations. Many executives pride themselves on avoiding partaking in office politics. The reality is that office politics are inevitable and unavoidable. If truth be known, your performance as an executive depends on your ability to navigate, and take part in, the complex web of office politics that surrounds you. A 2014 study published in Human Performance found that managers who were less politically savvy had a disengaging impact on their employees when providing performance feedback and telling employees what to do, as compared to their more politically skilled counterparts. Office politics are a fact of life. Let the games begin.
1. Don’t be a “yes (wo)man”
Many executives succumb to the temptation to play office politics by doing whatever it takes to gain the favor of the politically powerful. Judy agrees to cancel a long-anticipated vacation because her boss asked her to perform dog-walking duties during his travels overseas. It’s not worth it to assume a "yes man" or "yes woman" persona. Saying "yes" to all requests puts a damper on your more important tasks and can take a heavy toll on your productivity levels. What’s more, "yes men" and "yes women" typically stand out like sore thumbs. They’re viewed as less authentic and coworkers question their motives and intentions. An effective leader is an authentic one who exudes sincerity.
2. Read the people around you
The most effective executives are extremely perceptive. They exhibit high levels of social astuteness. They make conscious efforts to analyze the situations that unfold around them with the intent of understanding the motives at play. They critically evaluate how their coworkers' actions may serve to advance certain hidden agendas. They actively listen and read the room before exercising judgment. They closely scrutinize nonverbal and verbal behaviors to gain additional data points. They play the role of a detective, amassing together a stream of observations in order to better understand the political forces at play.
3. Advocate for yourself
While you don’t want to be a "yes man" or “yes woman”, you do want to act assertively. It’s impossible to score a basket when you're sitting on the bench. Once you’ve identified the political dynamics at play, attempt to gain the favor of the politically powerful in an authentic and sincere way. Ask if you can assist politically powerful individuals with impactful projects, and exceed expectations. Make them aware of key projects or initiatives you’ve worked on in the past that you’re proud of. It’s not about over-promoting yourself or tooting your horn. It's about demonstrating your worth in an authentic way, showcasing what you can bring to the table.
Ultimately, your objective should be one of developing organizational sponsors who genuinely believe in your potential and will advocate on your behalf (even behind closed doors). Sylvia Ann Hewlett, CEO of The Center for Talent Innovation and author of "Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor”, explains, "A mentor gives you friendly advice...A sponsor is senior in your organization or world and has the power to get you that next job.”
It’s no small feat to navigate office politics. Playing the game effectively doesn’t need to (and shouldn’t) result in you compromising your values, beliefs, or predispositions. An executive coach can help you develop the political skills (including self-awareness, emotional intelligence, social astuteness, and interpersonal influence) required to play the game effectively.
Nadine Greiner, Ph.D. provides Executive Coaching and Human Resources solutions. Her mission is to make the executive experience exceptionally enjoyable and effective. She believes that the world needs great leaders, and has dedicated her career to helping them.
As an organization psychologist and former corporate CEO, Dr. Nadine understands the pressures and demands executives face. She offers her clients the high expertise that only comes with three decades of consulting success, and a dual Ph.D. in Organization Development and Clinical Psychology. Dr. Nadine is an in-demand speaker, teaches in doctoral programs, and coaches other consultants. She is the author of two books: ‘The Art of Executive Coaching: Secrets to Unlock Leadership Performance’, and of ‘Stress-less Leadership: How to Lead in Business and in Life’. amazon.com/author/nadinegreiner