Do you think of yourself as “politically savvy” at work? If not, CCL’s Jean Leslie and Bill Gentry can help you out.

Politically savvy people have better career prospects, are seen as more promotable and are less likely to have derailed careers. People who bumble through the political realities — or avoid or ignore them — are missing opportunities, connections and resources.

According to Leslie and Gentry, the first step in overcoming your political weaknesses is to accept politics as a natural, neutral part of work life. Politics is neither good nor bad.

“Navigating politics doesn’t come easily for most of us, so we have a negative reaction to it,” says Leslie. “But you can be politically savvy without playing games or taking advantage of other people. Political savvy isn’t about being false and inauthentic. Instead, it involves the sincere use of your skills, behaviors and qualities in order to be more effective.”

Focus on Behaviors

A key CCL study found that a select set of leadership behaviors vary according to level of political skill.

“These findings suggest that if you strengthen these behaviors, you’ll strengthen your political skills in the process,” says Gentry.

  • Building collaborative relationships. Developing and maintaining effective working relationships is related to two measures of political skill: interpersonal influence (a convincing personal style) and thinking before you speak (ability to size up situations well before speaking). Those who are highly skilled in interpersonal influence are capable of adapting their behavior according to their audience, which appears to translate into especially strong relationships with bosses.
  • Composure. Are you calm in a crisis? Do you recover quickly from mistakes? Composure has to do with controlling impulses during difficult times and being responsible for what you say. Composureratings seem closely linked to measures of how well an individual thinks before speaking.
  • Putting people at ease. This gets at the heart of what it takes to make others relaxed and comfortable in your presence. People who are warm and have a good sense of humor are often able to make others feel at ease. Bosses saw the ability to put people at ease as related tointerpersonal influence. The ability to adapt according to contextual conditions is related to how comfortable others are in your presence.
  • Career management. How well do you manage your own career? Those adept at career management develop, maintain and use professional relationships for mentoring, coaching and feedback. Bosses related career management to two important political skills: networking ability(adept at developing and using diverse networks) and thinking before you speak. In other words, managers who are seen as being good at managing their careers are likely to have strong networking skills and are able to think about the potential impact of their words on others.

A Word to the Women

Office politics can be especially difficult for women.

“Many women are uncomfortable with the idea that political savvy may be an important component of leadership,” Leslie explains. “Because of this perspective, they find it difficult to incorporate political behaviors into their repertoire.

But, if you accept that organizational politics is a neutral, natural part of the workplace, you can build your capacity to lead, influence and persuade others in a sincere, authentic manner — advice that applies to politics-wary men, as well.

This article is adapted from the white paper Women and Political Savvy: How to build and embrace a fundamental leadership skill by Jean Brittain Leslie and William A. Gentry.

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