How to Develop Political Nous

Organisational politics are everywhere, as present in small charities as in the largest corporation. How do you manage it?

by Miranda Kennett
Last Updated: 23 Apr 2014

While it's unlikely you'll meet anyone who professes to love the political game, there are great benefits to be had from understanding how it's played, and making sure that you and those you care about benefit from it rather than becoming its victim.

If you tend to avoid 'unpleasant' politics but you'd like to improve working conditions or achieve an important, altruistic goal, you're at the bottom right of this matrix. A Silly Sheep, bleating about unfairness, but without understanding where the power lies and how to get things done.

On the other hand, if you're savvy about how to get your own way at the expense of others, through flattery, trickery and other Machiavellian moves, then you're a Sly Fox, the type that gives politics a bad name. Foxes often prosper initially but they are unable to command trust and loyalty, so don't always make it to the top, despite their cunning wiles.

Self-interested people who are oblivious to the structures and processes of power and influence are equally unsuccessful in getting what they want. The Dumb Donkeys do a lot of braying; demanding attention from the wrong people at the wrong time and irritating their managers. They can't understand why they fail to get preferment.

But there are some people with altruistic aims, who have worked out how to use personal and organisational agendas to create positive results. These are the Wise Owls, the people who look at the big picture, as well as understanding the preoccupations of the people who can say 'no', as well as 'yes'.

They know that there are usually options on how to achieve their aims. They weigh up who to approach, how, when and where to make their case and why it may be greeted favourably.

To understand the politics in your workplace, ask yourself who really wields power in a given situation? (It's not always the person with the grandest job title.) What's the purpose of this person/group/committee? How can you address their needs while achieving the higher purpose?

You may never enjoy engaging in office politics, but you ignore the rules at your peril.

Miranda Kennett is an independent coach. If there's a leadership issue you'd like her to address, contact her at Follow her on Twitter @mirandajkennett.

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