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How to be a good corporate politician

By Cranfield School of Management

How to be a good corporate politician corridor 615

Company politics is all about reconciling diverse stakeholder interests. In this article, Dr David Butcher and Dr Martin Clarke of Cranfield University’s School of Management look at how managers can encourage employees to be honourable politicians.

Imagine the impact of a corporate briefing that goes something like this: “We, the Board, understand this company comprises of groups of people with competing interests, who negotiate towards a common strategy. If you can think of alternative solutions, challenge us - or whoever you need to. You may encounter opposition, so build relationships and lobby the right people to ensure your suggestion counts.”

It’s a nice idea, but very unlikely. Although strategy is usually created in this way, through organisational decision-makers coming together, briefings from the Board tend to be about corporate mission and vision, and less about political collaboration.
At Cranfield, we believe that recognising the influence of politics on the decision-making process is a crucial step towards maximising leadership effectiveness. That’s because political work, whether parliamentary or organisational, is all about recognising and reconciling diverse stakeholder interests. It’s not something managers can shy away from - it’s the essence of their job. 
Opposing agendas
Managers generally accept the significance of politics on their role; they encounter opposing agendas every day, after all. However, their experience in the political field isn’t usually solid enough for them to understand, from the start of the process, how central politics is to managing. In other words, while they recognise their role is all about handling conflicting interests, they don’t tend to realise that politics can also be used to resolve issues, and drive organisational improvements. 

One reason for this lack of understanding is that many organisations overlook some of the motivations that drive managerial conduct; on the whole, they follow the rational mind-set - that organisational goals take priority and direct how people work. This is a stark oversight which overlooks the influence of personal agendas on operational conduct, and it’s these which often influence business decisions.

In other words, believing that employees selflessly act in harmony to serve the greater good of their organisation is a fine, yet unrealistic, attitude to take. The truth of the matter is, companies are formed of people and by nature people are predisposed to occasionally act in self-interest.

Accepting this reality enables managers to evaluate and balance agendas, then act according to unique political motivations to drive moral and effective outcomes...

Could your organisation benefit from developing employees to be honourable politicians?


Tags: Cranfield School of Management, exec-feature, developing leadership, executive development, general management, leadership capability, smart management, corporate politician