Political Savvy Case Study

Situation

Organizations are complex mazes of egos, constituencies, issues and rivalries. Playing some amount of politics the right way is a necessity for any successful leader. There are two kinds of leaders in organizations that need political skills coaching, the first is the person who thinks they won’t engage in politics and will just do their job. They reject the necessity of “playing politics.” The other is the person who thinks that every situation requires political analysis and spin.

The over-political people have strong egos and are focused on empire building. They build their own sandbox and defend it from attack and influence from outsiders. There are many traps and dead ends in organizations. More ways to turn wrong than right. People who are politically savvy accept this as the human condition and deal with it. Not to be confused with being “political” which is a polite term for not being trusted or lacking in substance. Political savvy involves getting things done with the least noise for the maximum benefits in an organization.

Impact if Unresolved

The unchecked politician will eventually plateau in the organization because they may:

  • Be seen as excessively political
  • Not be trusted
  • May tell others what they are expecting to hear rather than what he/she knows to be true
  • Overstate what he or she knows
  • Be seen as manipulative and scheming
  • Be cutting corners to look good to others
  • Engage in blaming behavior

Options For Improvement

An overly political individual that has moved up the organization will view “playing the game” the way they do as a strength.  These non-coaching options may provide some good skills for the individual, but likely if they do not see evidence that they are plateauing and they do not have a partner to help hold them accountable then they are less likely to make permanent changes.

  • Interpersonal skills training
  • Employee assistance program counselor support
  • Outside body language training
  • Communications assistance
  • Consensus building workshops

Coaching

After assessments and 360 interviews a coach would customize a political skills development program that would:

  • Focus on building integrity and trust including clear and unqualified communications, the value of keeping confidences, losing the personal agenda in lieu of the organization’s agenda, admitting mistakes, avoiding conflict and working hard to repair perception problems.
  • Help the individual practice not thinking inside/out when around others but thinking from the outside in. How to select from various skills, tone, and styles to find the best approach to make things work.
  • Map the political landscape. Determine influencers and decision makers on a variety of different issues to most effectively know how to get things done, when and how to expedite issues, identify gatekeepers and learn how to leverage the flow of resources, information and decisions. Politically savvy executives know that everyone does not need to be involved in everything.
  • Pay attention to body language for close-in political situations. Becoming an expert in in how to read non-verbal communication.
  • Establish reciprocal relationships where the individual becomes able to provide something in return to strike a bargain on a given issue.
  • Develop process flexibility.

Coaching Anecdote

Sam is a talented manager who has been passed over for promotion to Senior Manager for four years. She dutifully does her job by consulting everyone on every issue. She exaggerates the situation, creates drama in the organization, blames others and asks people to take sides. She is very polarizing but very talented.

After personalized interviews with executives, eight months of executive coaching, rebranding and remapping her approach to problem solving and issue resolution Sam has been able to win back the trust of her peers and senior leaders. She engaged in and successfully completed a number of development-in-place assignments including.

  • Creating postmortem process for failed projects for use across the organization.
  • Becoming a valued participant on change management teams.
  • Her 360 scores on becoming more personally flexible improved by 61% year over year as a result of caring more about the projects and issues objectives then being creating political noise.

Sam has been promoted two levels in three years and is now a VP at her company.