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Happy President's Day: Now about Office Politics

2.20.2012

With the popularity of books like “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” there is no doubt that if you can inspire cooperation amongst your team, you can more easily achieve greater personal and professional success. Why then, are so many leaders afraid of office politics?  The workplace is a complex environment, shaped by diverse personalities and competing agendas.  Learning to navigate office politics is crucial. While we aren’t running for office at work, you have goals and objectives, no matter your position. Rarely can you establish and reach objectives without help. Executives especially need to win the vote of their constituents but who are those constituents? Major “voters” for senior executives include managers who review them and colleagues who will decide to go beyond the call of duty to help you finish a project. Politicians live or die, in part by the favors they do……and office politics are no different.  The truly long-term successful executives do more than help only as mandated.  As one executive said, “I’d much rather people owe me a favor than owe them one.” So, in honor of President’s Day, here are three campaign slogans from the past to help you win the vote.

1. “Who is James K. Polk?” – Henry Clay, 1844
Don’t let your name fall into obscurity in the corporate political arena.  A blog by the Harvard Business Review explains that the best way for others to know who you are and what you want to accomplish is by building ongoing relationships with individuals outside of your functional area. Nurture your working relationships. Striking up a relationship only when problems arise could be viewed as opportunistic and limit your ability to wield a broad range of influence.  Cooperation and understanding are the cornerstones for every major decision, and if no one knows you or your initiatives, why would they support you?

2. “Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine. The Continental Liar from the State of Maine.” – Grover Cleveland, 1884
Grover Cleveland exposed opponent James G. Blaine’s business principles dealing with railroad companies which lacked transparency and did not adhere to the law.  Although ethical business practices are a given, you can appear unethical by making promises you can’t or don’t keep.  And many times people will forget the promises you do keep, but remember the ones you don’t keep.  The person who coined the phrase “under promise and over deliver” knew what he was talking about.  Transparency is critical in communicating with both internal and external stakeholders.  You need to communicate your objectives clearly and often (see no. 1), so that your team will also be invested in the outcomes. 

3. “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” – William Henry Harrison, 1840

Tippecanoe refers to William Henry Harrison leading U.S. forces at the Battle of Tippecanoe. The battle made him a national hero, but Harrison was smart enough to realize there was another name on his ticket that voters needed to rally around – his nominee for Vice President.  As an executive, it is your duty to champion your leadership team to others. They are the future of the organization and will often be the ones pushing for your initiatives in your absence. If you provide your team with support and visibility, you develop your team and provide an additional voice for your objectives.

Needless to say, there will always be “organizational bullies” who want to guard their turf and abuse their power, but politics can be good for an organization when it is used as a tool to bring cohesion to a team and motivate them toward a common organizational goal. The best leaders know how to provide a vision and then unite cross-functional members behind their initiatives. Now, put on your campaign button , stand behind your podium and win those voters.

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