German Chancellor Angela Merkel and South Korean President Park Geun-hye
Ideas for Leaders #091

How Women Can Be More Politically Savvy at Work

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Key Concept

Most of us have witnessed or participated of office politics at some point in our careers. What do you do in such a situation? Do you embrace it or avoid it? This Idea shows that contrary to the popular opinion that office politics is ‘bad’, politically savvy executives actually excel in their careers and make effective leaders. 

Idea Summary

Is organizational politics good or bad, or does it even exist? This seems to be a debated topic, with many executives (especially women) finding office politics difficult to embrace.  Female executives seem to be particularly uncomfortable with incorporating political skills/behaviours into their repertoire. But it’s not just females that view politics negatively; in general, political behaviour tends to be viewed as self-serving, and even at times akin to bullying.

But what if engaging in politically savvy behaviour could actually help you be more effective in your role, and help to build the capacity to lead an organization? According to this Idea, this is in fact the case.

Politics is neither good nor bad; rather, it is a neutral and natural part of organizational life. Rather than avoid or ignore it, politically savvy individuals can use their influence in an authentic and sincere manner. Ultimately, all the parties involved will get something positive out of this.

CCL® surveyed 334 participants in its Leadership Development Programs and Women’s Leadership Programs in 2004–05. They found that those who are ‘politically savvy’ have better career prospects and trajectories, and are seen as more promotable. In particular, the following behaviours seem to vary according to how politically savvy an individual is:

  • the ability to build collaborative relationships;
  • composure;
  • putting people at ease; and
  • career management.

Despite all the positive information on politics, it remains a fact that female executives are still less likely than male executives to find themselves in situations where opportunities for promotion, access to mentors and encouragement to take risks exists. These unique barriers make it more critical than ever for them to embrace and develop political savvy skills.

Business Application

So what are politically-savvy skills should executives work to bring out in order to ensure effectiveness in any political environment? The following four approaches are recommended:

  1. Network: connect with influential individuals, which can help you gain access to important information from key insiders. Simply observing and modelling these individuals can also help you become more effective. Similarly, building mentoring relationships can also be helpful.
  2. Scan your environment: be in the moment. Strive to be a perceptive observer that can adapt behaviour to reflect changing conditions. Consider how others feel in a situation and pay attention to your own feelings and reactions as well.
  3. Think before you act: control your impulses. That means forget about telling that inappropriate joke! Put people at ease by taking a deep breath and stepping back. This means, take the time to think through what will happen if you behave a certain way.
  4. Inspire trust: behave genuinely and exhibit honesty and sincerity. Small things like making eye contact to show you are listening can make a big difference. Follow through and do what you say will you do. Above all, keep confidences and avoid gossiping at all costs!
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Idea conceived

  • 2012

Idea posted

  • February 2013

DOI number



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