You’ve probably said it more than once. It comes up often when I’m consulting with executives and organizational leaders. They love their job except for this one thing… or… Their job would be perfect except for just one thing…
“I hate the politics!”
It is so frustrating! Politics. No, I’m not talking about governmental politics (although that too can be extremely frustrating). I’m talking about all of the gossip, back-biting, maneuvering, manipulating, one-up-manship and the most dreaded of all… schmoozing. All of this stuff is an annoying part of the culture of any organization, in fact, it takes place everywhere human beings gather.
But what if… what if the one thing that you think you hate is what is sabotaging your career? What if this bias toward the culture of human organizations is the very thing getting in the way of your growth and success? What if this disdain for “politics” is sabotaging your leadership and effectiveness? What will you do? Will you stubbornly hold on to these thoughts? I guess you could find work that doesn’t involve people or money, right? Maybe there’s another approach.
Let’s look at “politics” another way…
What is politics? Politics is the art and science of forming, directing and administering units (in the case of federal politics that would be political units and states.) In the case of projects and businesses, these units are your teams and sub-teams. You form them. You direct them. And, you administer them. That IS politics!
In today’s US political climate, we are going through the process of each party selecting their candidates. Regardless of your political leanings, let’s look at what all of the candidates are doing.
- They are communicating their vision. They are painting broad strokes for what they want the country to look like in the future. “Make America great again.” / “Renew the basic bargain of America…” / “A message to the billionaire class: You can’t have it all.” / “Join the movement for courageous conservatives.”
They all have a big vision for how they want the state of this union to be and become.
Their message is compelling, relevant and inspiring to those who are following them.
- They are not ashamed to gather followers. Their followers are their team members. Many of them work for FREE!! The candidates talk about who they are and what they stand for. Do their followers agree with EVERY message or position of their candidates? NO, of course not. But they do believe that their candidate is of good character, a caring, compassionate leader who will take them int the direction they want to go.
- The followers fill in the details. Do the candidates stand in front of their followers and spell out very detail of every plan to the nth detail? Nope. Leaders who try to fill in every blank for their followers are suffocating. It’s like they are stealing the oxygen from the room and keeping it all for themselves. Today’s candidates allow enough room in their plans so their loyal supporters can fill in the blanks. The followers take the broad messages of the candidates and personalize these messages into the context of their unique, individual lives, loves and experiences.
Politics is an aggregate of relationships of people (stakeholders or shareholders). If you work with people, you are in politics. It is the job of the project manager and executives to bring people together to follow them in a common direction. So embrace the process. Make it your own.
Set your vision
Politics doesn’t have to be slimy, sleazy and manipulative. Politics does involve your brand of influence and persuasion as these skills are necessary to organize human beings.
What’s your vision? Do you have a tag line or slogan?
Remember the goal doesn’t have to be exactly the same for every person. However, the direction must be the same! Your vision should set the course in the direction that your team wants or needs to go.
NEWSFLASH: People won’t follow you to nowhere for long.
Look at the example messages above. Does everyone agree on how to make America great? No, but that is the direction they want to move. Does everyone agree on how the billionaires can’t have it all anymore? No, but the message is compelling to the followers.
Your True Discomfort with Politics
Politics isn’t about pleasing everyone. It’s about taking a stand. Leadership is also about taking a stand. Just like politics, leadership is about gathering followers. I mean, can you really call a leader a “leader” if they don’t have any followers?
Now, you probably don’t want to be a jerk when you take a stand; that might be counterproductive and against your values. The key when taking a stand is not to worry about pleasing everyone. You want to find folks who will willingly and loyally follow you because of your vision and your good character. Everyone will not get on board with you. I’m sorry but your stand and your style will upset some people and maybe even offend them. There will be people who don’t like you. Is that because of “politics”? No, of course not.
What if we just accepted it for what it is and live with it. Stop trying to please everyone!
What happens in leadership when we try to please everyone? We end up pursuing and unattainable goal and filling our lives with frustration and discouragement. Who wants to follow a frustrated and discouraged leader?
Another reason leaders may say “I hate politics” is because they hate to make the hard decisions that might cause someone not to like them. I know that is exactly why I said it in my life and career. I really wanted to be liked by everyone.
NEWSFLASH: Everyone is NOT going to like you.
Some people will even dislike you for being likeable.
What happens when people don’t like their leaders? Do the leaders flip-flop and change courses? No. If that were true, leaders would be followers. Leaders select a course and those who don’t like the course jump off of the ship or sit on the ship and complain. Focus on your vision. Communicate your vision. Ignore the dissenters. Invite them to adopt your vision or invite them to get off of your ship.
It’s difficult. Feelings will be hurt. But, it will be worth it if your vision is worthwhile. All of this is part of life; it’s part of love; it’s part of leadership.
If you are a leader, you are in politics!
I’m sorry to put it to you so directly but you need to hear it. You need to stop running away from it if you are going to attain your goals and become a successful leader.
Followers fill in the details
Project managers and executives, many who have “come up through the ranks,” fail to let go of the details. This is another reason why I believe “politics” are so hated in the corporate or organizational systems. Yet, it is EXACTLY what every great leader needs to embrace!
Leaders allow their teams/followers to fill in the details. Sure, as a leader you may have ideas and perspectives, but it’s the followers who are doing the work. Allow them to use their brains, their ideas and their perspectives to accomplish their tasks that lead to the realization of your collective goals and visions.
You can do it!!
If you are biased against a political organizational culture then you can’t lead. Oh sure, you can manage from a hierarchical structure as long as your at the top of the food chain. But, as soon as the hierarchy and structure appears to wobble or breaks down, the good performers will become dissatisfied, you end up with a sub-performing team because there is no vision to hold them together. Then your work is even more difficult. And what’s the true cause?
The only reason is that you may be stuck is if you believe that you hate politics when in fact it isn’t politics that you hate at all.
- Politics is about assuming a position of power. Yes, if you are a leader that is you!
- Politics is business. It’s the mutual exchange of value. Managing projects and organizations is business.
- Politics is about creating value and accomplishing things to make the quality of our lives better. I hope your leadership, your organization and your work is about this as well.
Embrace the politics (even if you have to name it something else like “leadership”). It’s what you do as a leader. Go out and gather your followers. Spread your message and ask people to come on board with you. Ask for Likes. If people don’t want to follow or like you, don’t spend your time trying to figure out who to get them to “friend” you. Go find other friends. How?
Take these steps
- Define your vision. What’s your purpose? What are your intentions? Take time to crystallize and pull these thoughts together. [Use the downloadable worksheet below to help you with this.]
- Communicate your vision. Share your ideas, dreams and goals. Show how others are needed to make it happen.
- Gather your followers. Find people who share your vision.
- Nurture your followers. Help them get to where they want to go. Remember it’s in the same direction as your vision – even if it isn’t exactly the same spot.
- Enjoy the politics. Enjoy the process of creating value and improving the quality of life… your life, your followers lives, and the lives of everyone you touch. 🙂
Please don’t let your bias towards a political culture get in your way. You can easily overcome it by looking at it from another perspective and then taking the actions necessary to make the difference that you are going to make in your world!!
[fac_icon icon=”download” color=”#1e73be” color_hover=”#81d742″ font_size=”14″] If you’d like to Create and Define a Compelling Vision, download this worksheet to get started. [fac_icon icon=”download” color=”#1e73be” color_hover=”#81d742″ font_size=”14″]
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