Office politics. Few of us enjoy them. Even fewer of us are good at them. But we ignore them at our own peril.
Politics is what happens when two more more people come together for a purpose. Eventually, we’ll need to exchange resources to achieve that purpose. At a basic level, it’s horse-trading.
Politicking is what happens when someone wants something: “How do I get what I want, from whom?” Unless you’ll never want anything (like maybe a raise, a promotion, more resources), you’ll need to learn how to practice “the art of the possible.”
If you’re going to play the game properly, you’d better know every rule. — Barbara Jordan
You don’t need to become Bill Clinton. You just need to master these 4 golden rules of politicking:
- Understand the real power structure. It’s not always the one represented on the organization chart. Who is in the “kitchen” cabinet? Who are the college buddies, the golf partners, the Friday lunch bunch? When and where does the back-room negotiating get done?
- Choose your battles. One of my most effective coaching tools is asking the question: “Is this the hill you want to die on?” Your political capital is precious, and not unlimited, so spend it wisely.
3. Always be building. Your political capital, that is. And it’s not always about giving a favor. Sometimes it’s about asking for one. Benjamin Franklin recounts the story about a man with whom he wanted to cultivate a relationship. The man had a remarkable personal library, so Franklin asked to borrow a book. It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
4. Know whom to consult. You can’t go it alone. Even the Godfather needed a Consigliere. You need intelligence about what’s going on, and you need advice on how to proceed (or not). Not only do you want a wise mentor, you’ll also need to talk to people specific to the situation. If you’ve mastered rules above, you’ll know exactly whom to consult on any matter, and they’ll be happy to help!
More on office politics:
“Positive Workplace Politics”