Political Skill & #Leadership

Often, we consider the effective player of office politics as someone who is a bit sleazy, someone who manipulates others to achieve their own self-interest. My own perception of the effective office politician is just that, perhaps because I’m pretty terrible at office politics. But maybe I’m wrong about office politicians.

Recent research suggests that leaders who demonstrate strong political skill actually experience better quality relationships with their followers, better 360 degree evaluations of leadership performance, and their followers also experience better performance evaluations. The authors define political skill as the ability to identify and understand the motivations and needs of others to influence others to ensure the attainment of individual, group or organizational goals. This ability ensures that followers will have a leader who understands them, who enables them to achieve their own goals, and who is able, through political skill to attain the resources needed to achieve group goals.  Strong leaders have strong political skills.

So for me at least, I guess political skill in and of itself is not sleazy. It is the use towards which it is put. If political skills are put towards attaining the goals of an organization or group it achieves positive things. If these same activities also achieve an individuals goals, then all is well, everyone wins.  But when political skills are used to the detriment of other people in the organization, and/or to the detriment of the organization, in the pursuit of individual objectives, then you have a problem. So yet again, it isn’t the politics, it’s the people who cause the problems. Perhaps it is time to spruce up your political skills?

Robyn L. Brouer, Ceasar Douglas, Darren C. Treadway and Gerald R. Ferris. Leader Political Skill, Relationship Quality, and Leadership Effectiveness: A Two-Study Model Test and Constructive Replication. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies published online 25 September 2012 DOI: 10.1177/1548051812460099


Categories: Uncategorized

6 replies »

  1. In their excellent book on leadership called Reframing Organizations, Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal talk at great length about the need to stop thinking of politics as a negative thing. We’re all guilty of it – eg, ‘it’s so political’ means something sleazy is at work. They provide the following definition, which has profoundly shaped my work with public libraries and their municipal funders, but just as true for any organization: “Politics is the realistic process of making decisions and allocating resources in a context of scarcity and divergent interests.” As leaders we are absolutely political and need to grow comfortable with that reality and develop the skill set that will allow us to influence decision making and secure the resources we need to do the work that needs to be done!

  2. Thanks AMM. Reframing the concept of political skill is essential. Political skill is only “sleazy” when it is used in an individuals self-interest, but not in the interest of an organization, or of society. Easy to say, not so easy to do. I’ll look forward to reading the Bolman & Deal book, sometime soon….

  3. Yes. Yes. Yes. Naive me early in my career believed in meritocracy. As you move up the ladder, having the necessary political skills is a crucial success factor. I too, thought it was sleazy. I, too, am not a master craftsman at this trade – but I have worked on it and have improved. Fact is, corporations are run by humans. Humans are imperfect (me too). Humans are emotional. Humans can be irrational. Humans are after their own self-interests. So, I have turned my thinking. You need to be effective in managing the political landscape. Resource allocations depend on it. Relationships depend on it. As you other follows have stated above, if you have your corporations and teams best interest at heart, all is good. Great post Colleen.

  4. David, you nailed it. For me the biggest question is how can I improve my political skills? Is this something innate, or can we develop these skills? Any suggestions, such as Annemarie’s reading list, or programs, experiences would be appreciated. Thanks for being such a loyal reader.

  5. The term “political skill” probably bothers a lot of people. Thinking about it though, the day of leaders as dictators has passed. We want leaders who can build consensus or buy in, people who build support. It may make us a little uncomfortable but leaders need to have at least a little political savvy in order to bring an organization together. Great post, thanks.

    • Thanks Frank. I hadn’t thought of it this way, but you are right, building consensus is a political act. I wonder how often we use political skill without realizing it. Thanks for the comment.

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