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Leadership and organizational politics

Organizational politics is an inescapable and intrinsic reality. Organizational politics is so intricately woven with management system that relationships, norms, processes, performance and outcomes are hugely influenced and affected by it.
Organizational politics defined
Organizational politics can be described as self serving and manipulative behaviour of individuals and groups to promote their self interests at the expense of others, and some times even organizational goals as well. Organizational politics in a company manifests itself through struggle for
resources, personal conflicts, competition for power and leadership and tactical influence executed by individuals and groups to attain power, building personal stature, controlling access to information, not revealing real intents, building coalitions etc.

Interplay between leadership, authority, influence and followers
How organizational politics is related to leadership can be better understood from the fact that organizational leadership occurs in the context of groups, where followers are influenced by the leader to ensure their commitment and voluntary involvement towards predetermined outcomes.
Political climate of an organization is impacted by a leader through treatment and use of authority under different settings which is clearly visible during the acts of decision making, setting agenda and interaction with others to mobilize support, inspire teams and individuals and recognize people.

This interplay between leaders and their authority & influence over the followers set the tone for political climate in an organization.

Understanding of organizationsí political systems - key to success
Understanding of organizationsí political systems is absolutely essential for leadership to maneuver the company towards the goals. Internally grown leaders will have an advantage of knowledge of general political conditions prevailing in the company (different coalitions and centers of influence which can create buy in or create road blocks). Leaders from outside must put efforts to learn and understand the existing organizational politics through keen observation and focused interaction with different groups of people. Some of the indicators available for leaders to assess political climate is general job satisfaction levels, responsiveness to innovative ideas, efficacy of decision making machinery and speed of implementation of decisions. Understanding is the key for leaders to exploit and smother organizational politics and also to enhance their own leadership credibility.

Leveraging political understanding for advantage
Leaders use political leverage available to them under different situations in order to promote the organizational interests.

Once the understanding of organizational politics is gained leaders may use political leverage available to them under different situations in order to promote the organizational interests. Leaders exploit organizational politics even to graduate to leadership positions as potential leaders with proper political orientation may:
  • Time the opportunity to highlight their contribution
  • Ensure top management support for difficult decisions or initiatives
  • Make use of suitable persons (experts, consultants, experienced persons with right image etc.) to put their point across
  • Show respect for hierarchy in spite of the hurdles that it may create

Also political acumen of leaders is put to test when dealing with aspects such as change management and crisis management. In such situations leaders need to quickly identify the group which is going to support them and build a strong coalition with counter strategies backed by overwhelming facts and reasons before the war begins thereby preempting a war. Also crucial at these times is the choice of the persons made responsible to fight the war (change agents or crisis management team) and how critical support is made available to them through subtle changes in organization structure and resource allocation.

Promoting progressive culture not politics
Indisputably, leaders are source of power, influence and hence politics in an organization. Since people have needs and leaders have the authority to fulfill these needs, those who fulfill the needs hold potential power. Leaders can to a great extent smother political climate having negative impact on the people attitudes and organization outcomes by aligning individual needs with organizational goals, in such a way that fulfillment of collective goals results in automatic fulfillment of individual needs also. Leaders must realize that organizational politics is a function of culture of trust in the organization, which is built through values of fairness and transparency. Fair play, justice and transparency in procedures and processes is key in creating an environment where organizational politics take back seat and a progressive culture is established which gives prominence to organizational goals through voluntary involvement of individuals. In other words, leaders must inspire people into action by creating clarity and unity of purpose and build synergies through organizational values.

It is extremely important for leaders to understand, exploit and smother the political climate in the company to maximize the organizational outcome and satisfaction levels of the people.

© Alagse