by Amy Johnson on 01/08/12 at 12:54 pm
Are leaders above politics? Should they be above politics? These are interesting questions that many in the workplace grapple with. All companies are subject to the forces of competition and conflict that exist among co-workers. While many of us would like to believe that business decisions are made on the basis of rational thought alone, the truth is that politics are non-rational undercurrents dictated by power relations.
While some leaders choose to believe that organisational politics do not exist, others choose to condemn politics to an inherently immoral category. Both courses of action won’t counter the inescapable forces at work. As a corporate coach, you can help your client acknowledge the dynamics at play and work within this political framework.
In your career as a coach, you will frequently encounter talented individuals with many outstanding personality traits and qualifications, who have somehow been overlooked. While some thrive in the cut-throat business environment, other suitably skilled individuals fall by the wayside. People who opt to ignore organisational politics are often the ones have been on the losing side of a decision, or were outmanoeuvred as a result of power plays. Whatever the root cause may be, coaches should help their clients adopt a strategy for dealing with politics in the workplace.
Addressing negative connotations
Organisational politics are traditionally associated with discrimination, unfairness and corrupt decision making. While these unfavourable outcomes are a result of negative political influences, there are a number of positive functions that political forces can accomplish. For instance, politics can be used to bring about changes that would ordinarily be blocked under conventional systems. Politics can also be used to promote differing perspectives by being the driver for healthy debate and discussion.
Developing a strategy
Instead of viewing politics as an evil dynamic to be avoided at all costs, coaches can help their clients take an informed approach. Leaders should be guided to consider whether they are interested in what is going on politically in their organisation, and the extent to which they put themselves or the company first.
The key is to strike a balance. Effective leaders should be knowledgeable about what is going on around them. They should recognise political manoeuvres and how they are executed in order to counter those that may be levelled against them. Coaches should help their clients to think about the following ways that organisational politics can be addressed:
- Develop an awareness of the opportunities for politicking that may arise – during meetings, when problems occur or when senior members of an organisation are in a position to be swayed.
- Know the role players and their game play by examining trends in their behaviour and specific triggers that cause manipulative behaviour.
- Where possible, try to address unscrupulous colleagues, especially when it comes to abuse of power, or discrediting someone with insufficient grounds and false rumours.
Underlying these strategies is the need to stay informed. It is essential for a leader to understand the political system of an organisation in order to reach their goals and perform optimally. As a coach, you are uniquely positioned to assist your client in viewing political actions from different perspectives. While some clients may equate politics with underhanded or destructive behaviour, you can help them identify the natural and essential elements of informal influence that embody organisational politics.
Have you considered the value of coaching professionals to achieve their goals? Consider enrolling in the part-time online University of Cape Town Foundations of Corporate Coaching course. For more information visit www.GetSmarter.co.za.
Amy Johnson is a member of the academic department of GetSmarter, a specialist online training firm. Equip yourself with the skills needed to make your business a success with a short course from online education company, GetSmarter. Choose from business-related topics such as small business management, financial management, marketing, social media and more. Visit www.getsmarter.co.za for more information. View more articles by Amy Johnson.