The Joy of Office Politics.  Oxymoron?  Almost every leader I talk to hates office politics. Secretly we all dream of workplaces that are free of office politics. What if we discovered five steps that would actually help make office politics joyful? Would you try them?

Here’s a recent Client situation that inspired me to write this blog post. Client is a senior leader in a new role in Supply Chain in a manufacturing company. She is responsible for major transformation of the Supply Chain function. The new CEO of her division is holding her accountable for making it happen.  She has a dotted line reporting relationship to the Supply Chain Head who is the official Sponsor of the transformation project. The problem is that the Supply Chain Head was recently demoted in position and does not have a great relationship with the CEO.  The transformation project is to dismantle some of what the Supply Chain Head created over his 20+ year career. He’s not exactly thrilled as you might imagine. He is unconsciously sabotaging the efforts my Client is responsible for.  She has been told by the current CEO she needs to be the “watchdog” to report back any sabotage. However, she needs the Supply Chain Head’s help as most of the people implementing the changes work for him.  Who should she be loyal to? How can she be successful? The “icky” politics of this is enough to get her to avoid the situation all together.

Does this situation sound familiar? Do you know anyone who is accountable for results where they have no direct authority and political agendas get in the way? Not you? Maybe a friend you know?

Five Steps to Get Office Politics Right

Step #1 – Reframe the Situation from “Office Politics” to “The Art of Empathy”

Most of us avoid office politics because it reeks of manipulation and Machiavellian moves and we self-righteously believe that we should be able to get things done by other means. We end up sabotaging our ability to meet our goals by not engaging the right people because the “politics” disgust us.

Our first step is to re-engage in “the politics” by reframing it for ourselves as “empathy”. Empathy, or the art of understanding others, being able to put ourselves in their shoes, is a critical factor in emotional intelligence. This reframing allows us to get re-engaged in what needs to be done and the stakeholders who matter.

My Client chose to re-engage in the work to be done by reframing it as empathy, a key strength she has, rather than office politics (something she considers a weakness).

Step #2 – Get Clear, Clean and Confident In Your Own Intent

It’s important in this step that we get clear what the success outcome looks like and what our own motivation and commitment is to this outcome. Ask yourself the questions:

–          What is my objective here? Short-term and long-term?

–          Why is this objective important to me?

–          Why is this objective “the right thing to do” for the business?

–          What strengths do I bring to help me achieve my objective?

–          Who are the critical stakeholders who can influence the outcome?

This is a critical step because we must first be convinced ourselves if we are to enroll anyone else in the objectives we are pursuing. My Client got really clear why this transformation project was critical to the survival of the business as well as the people working in the business. She also got really clear that she had to find a way to work with the Supply Chain Head rather than circumvent him.

Step #3 – Seek First to Understand

Often times in situations like this, our first instinct is to require someone to change in order to meet our goals and needs. Guess what? It’s really hard to get people to change without their own consent, just because it will be more convenient for us (believe me, I’ve tried!).

We often have stories (http://www.transformleaders.tv/want-power-dump-your-story/) about ourselves and others which prevent us from collaborating fully with them.  Our expectations and beliefs about others color our experience of them. We notice only what we are looking for. These limiting beliefs cause us to sabotage our own goals. What we have to do is change our own mindset first.

Ask yourself these questions for each key stakeholder:

–          What are their objectives?

–          Why are these objectives important to them? Try to get underneath the purely rational to the emotional drivers of people. These emotional drivers (e.g. fears, hopes) are what mostly influence their behaviors.

–          What are their feelings about the situation they are in?

–          How are these feelings valid? The key here is to honor the feelings of the other person rather than judge them.

–          What do I need to change in my own mindset that will allow me to see this person in the most positive light?

–          What understanding can I bring to this situation that will allow me to positively influence the stakeholder?

–          How can I help them to be successful in the deeper motivations of what they want to achieve?

My client started by putting herself in the shoes of the Supply Chain Head. Rather than blaming him for the sabotage, she started to understand his feelings of unworthiness related to the demotion, fear of a new future where some of the rules would be different, pride in his 20+ year legacy, factors which were causing some of the sabotage behaviors. She realized that what the Supply Chain Head really needed was positive affirmation and also someone he could trust. Instead of avoiding him she started thinking about ways to re-engage with him to help him to fulfill these needs. She thought about connecting and befriending this person in an authentic way.

Step #4 – Catch Them Doing Something Right

Look for behaviors where your key stakeholders are helping to move the objectives forward. Remember, we always find what we look for. Ask yourself these questions:

–          What has this person done that will move the overall business objective forward?

–          What are this person’s strengths?

–          What other behaviors are positive that show progress?

–          How can I best affirm or recognize these behaviors in an authentic way?

My Client shifted her focus to what was working in the relationship and what were some of the positive behaviors she saw in the Supply Chain Head. When she told the current CEO of positive behavior and support from the Supply Chain Head, he used that to recognize the work, building trust within the entire team. She reframed her role from being a “watchdog” to being a “cheerleader”.

Step # 5 – Give Yourself A Pat on the Back

This is a really critical step.  We’re all tempted to skip it. Don’t. This is the step that will help you build competency in this area and prepare you for the next time you need to influence in the organization. It might just change your perception of your own leadership brand and purpose.

Ask yourself:

–          What did I do well in this situation?

–          What did I learn about my strengths?

–          What aspects of influencing did I most enjoy?

–          What learning from this can I apply to other parts of this organization?

–          What did I learn about myself as a leader?

Most importantly, through this exercise my Client started to see herself as someone who could influence in a positive and genuine way by using her strengths in empathy. She started to see herself as a leader who could build others up and help them shine, rather than just a leader who was driving an important transformation project for the company. Every opportunity to influence is an opportunity for us to define who we are as leaders, so let us fully seize the day. Carpe Diem!