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Ideas for Leaders #678

How to Stay Ahead in the Game of Office Politics

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Key Concept

Despite its negative connotation, office politics is a fact of workplace life. Successful people are politically savvy but also driven by integrity and authenticity. Vlerick Business School offers a guidebook for navigating the landscape of office politics without losing that authenticity.

Idea Summary

The word ‘politics’ has such a negative connotation that being ‘skilled’ at office politics may imply deceit, hypocrisy, and other sundry attributes that one doesn’t advertise on a resume. In their white paper, ‘Your Vlerick Guidebook for Staying Ahead of the (Political) Game,’ Vlerick business school professor Katleen de Stobbeleir and her collaborator Maaike van Ameijde offer a more positive approach to office politics as an opportunity to be authentic and productive. In fact, they argue, authenticity is the vital component of being politically savvy, which results in more effective relationships with others, stronger reputations, and, ultimately, career success.

Unfortunately, being political is uncomfortable for many people, and not just because of its negative reputation. Perhaps an even greater hurdle is the fact that most people have built up their careers based on technical and functional expertise. Such expertise, however, can only take you so far. Further career advancement requires adopting a more strategic and organizational mindset, and using interpersonal and social skills to achieve your goals. Technical and functional skills are no longer as valuable as the ability to build coalitions and acquire resources, thus building up your influence in the organization (and your ability to achieve more). Equally important is having the dexterity not to get mired in power games and struggles.
In their paper, de Stobbeleir and van Ameijde offer a series of tips and tactics for becoming politically savvy that they’ve divided into two types: tactics for developing yourself and tactics for building your relationships.

Tactics for developing yourself include the following:

  • Observe the political landscape before you step in. Discern who has influence and who might be a toxic person to avoid. Identifying politically savvy role models will help; their behaviours will tell you who has the power, for instance. 
  • Replace your negative view of politics with a neutral view. You’re not being inauthentic just being you are trying to gain influence and make a difference. The right mindset is to recognize that it’s just part of doing business.
  • Share your goal of becoming more politically savvy. Not only will the feedback on your skills in this area help you succeed, you’ll lose the uncomfortable feeling that somehow you are being duplicitous.
  • Build an authentic leadership image. The key word, of course, is authentic. Know how you are perceived, know how you want to be perceived, and work to bring out the characteristics that others are missing.

Tactics for building your relationships include the following:

  • Invest in a peer coalition of support. People often underestimate the importance of having peers on your side. For example, never hesitate to give peers credit.
  • Get your boss on board. Managing up does not mean becoming a slavishly devoted subordinate. It means developing sincere, beneficial relationships in which you build rapport and trust by proactively sharing information, making a serious attempt to understand your superiors’ needs and concerns, and striving to make them look good.
  • Build strategic relationships with key influencers. These are people inside and outside your organization, and could include shareholders, board of directors, key employees, customers and even competitors. Don’t simply collect business cards; invest in the relationship, including offering help and expertise. 
  • Network on different levels. Develop and nurture different networks for different goals: an operational network for day-to-day activities; a personal network for personal and professional development; and a strategic network for new business ideas and partners.

Business Application

No person is an island, and this is especially true in the business arena. To be politically savvy simply refers to the ability to develop good, productive relationships with those around you — hardly a nefarious goal. There is nothing devious, for example, about thinking before you speak, deciding whether or not speaking up would be productive and choosing your battles wisely. It also makes sense to manage up — up to a point: you will want to avoid the temptation to focus so much on your boss that you neglect you own teams.

Increasing your influence through stronger interpersonal relationships and rapport and learning to network effectively through beneficial working relationships increases the potential resources and support on which you can call as needed. Reciprocity is a powerful principle of business success.

However, the foundation of all political skills and actions must be integrity and authenticity. Otherwise, any success built through your political savvy is bound to be only temporary.

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Idea conceived

  • October 2017

Idea posted

  • October 2017

DOI number



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