Recognizing the “Political Realities” to Improve the Power of Leadership Influence

Recognizing the “Political Realities” to Improve the Power of Leadership Influence

Achieving success for leaders often requires understanding and navigating the political realities of organizations, its executives and its culture.

During my many years of coaching executives I have been amazed at the lack of understanding some of them have had in recognizing the political realities of their own organizational situations. One example that comes to mind recently is from a senior executive who was having challenges in her interactions with her boss, the CEO of the company. The CEO felt that she was not timely in delivering on her commitments to him. This often resulted in his being frustrated and feeling like she did not take him seriously; which eventually led to his having the impression that she was trying to undermine him.

Although she heard his concerns, her tendency was to view him as just another peer and consequently did not prioritize his requests or commitments. I do not think she had a “death wish” regarding her employment, but she was unable to recognize that some are more equal than others, just as in George Orwell’s classic Animal Farm. This political reality, that the needs of some stakeholders for your success must be addressed first, was not on her radar. This, along with other issues, caused significant strain on what should have been a very collaborative relationship in the organization. Her case is not unique. I have seen this scenario numerous times with other senior leaders in multiple organizations. I’ve seen this play out in the form of passive resistance, perceived as lack of respect, which does not bode well for a good working relationship.

In coaching executives to avoid these pitfalls, I suggest the coachee create a plan using the following keys:

● Prioritize their stakeholder relationships based on who is most crucial for their success. The CEO should usually be on the top of that list.
● Based on their prioritization, assess the key crucial needs of each stakeholder.
● Ask the coachee to prioritize a set of actions/commitments on how they could help those key stakeholders in meeting their needs.
● Assess how those stakeholders could help them in meeting their needs.
● Establish further dialogue with those stakeholders to align expectations, find ways to mutually meet each other’s needs and establish commitments that they will hold each other accountable to meet.
● Agree that when a problem occurs in following through on those commitments they will meet and put on the table right away their concerns/frustrations and try to find a way to move forward.

These pitfalls in political realities can be avoided. It’s not rocket science, but unfortunately, given the busy schedule and time constraints in today’s work environment, it is often not done. Continuing to not recognize that some stakeholders are more equal than others can result in creating no-win situations. Being political in organizations can often be unhealthy, but the reality is that any organization has its own “political realities” that must be recognized and managed effectively. Trying to influence those realities requires first a recognition they exist and a realization that meeting commitments to key stakeholders is critical.

What key stakeholders are you trying to influence? Are you living up to your commitments to them? Do you truly know their key needs? Have you had the kind of dialogue with them to find them out? What commitments must I meet that are critical to them, which will help both of us within that organization’s political realities?