Win at office politics by getting alignment around a shared purpose first and then taking a principle-based approach to navigating through the politics.
Let’s unpack that idea into purpose, politics, and navigating, keeping in mind that politics is inevitable in any organization of more than one person. Even if you’d like to pretend your organization is politics-free, it isn’t. Even if you’d like to ignore the politics and get on with the real work, you can’t. On the other hand, those that make playing politics their first priority often fail to get beyond it. Thus, the prescription for success:
- Start by reconfirming your purpose.
- Figure out the political landscape.
- Take a principle-based approach to working through the politics with your allies.
Start with what matters. Call it what you want: the mission, the vision, the cause, the higher calling. There is some reason for your organization to exist, some purpose. This is why people are part of your organization. Everyone in the organization should agree on this – even if they forget it from time to time.
- In his work to gain passage of the 13th amendment abolishing slavery and indentured servitude, U.S. president Lincoln went all the way back to Declaration of Independence’s unalienable rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. Securing those is the nation’s and the government’s purpose. In general, all agreed with this.
Find and reconfirm your organization’s purpose as a starting point.
Even if all agree on the purpose, there will be different interpretations of that purpose and different views of the best way to achieve it. Different people will have different constituencies, different allies, and different personal agenda. You cannot influence these people until you understand their perspectives and needs.
Lincoln understood the different factions in the House of Representatives. Some had different priorities. Some saw different sequences of events. One of the big questions in 1865 was whether to push for an end to the Civil War before pushing for the constitutional amendment or the other way around. Some congressmen had been voted out of office. They would be worrying about their next jobs. Net, multiple perspectives and personal agendae.
Understand the political landscape.
WORKING THROUGH THE POLITICS
Taking a principle-based approach to working through the politics with your allies helps to elevate things beyond the personal. It’s not about you. It’s not about them. It’s about working together in pursuit of a shared purpose. Try to avoid arguing about different opinions as much as possible. Instead, agree on a set of principles. Then marshal your allies to move things forward in keeping with those principles.
As depicted so well in Stephen Spielberg’s film, “Lincoln”, Lincoln was prepared to push all sorts of boundaries to eliminate slavery. He was prepared to work with anyone he needed, humble himself when needed, cajole when needed, bully when needed, and stay out of the way when needed. He was prepared to trade jobs for support, but not pay bribes. He was prepared to delay peace talks so he could say they had not happened yet.
Play from principles, not personal persuasion.
Think in terms of a BRAVE approach to office politics (Behaviors, Relationships, Attitude, Values, Environment):
- Where play (environment): understand the political field
- What matters (values): your purpose and principles
- How win (attitude): how navigate the politics to achieve your purpose
- How connect (relationships): build alliances
- What impact (behaviors): make it real.
Note this is a Leader’s Perspective article, which is different than my normal, regular New Leader’s Playbook articles. Those generally focus on one of the ten steps of The New Leader’s Playbook, drawing on learning from specific leaders (who are not PrimeGenesis clients). My “Leader’s Perspective articles are comments on things I see in working with clients, read about, or hear from others.