What is Political Skill and Why Is It a Good Thing?

Take a moment and think about a leader in your organization whom you would consider to be political. How would you describe that leader? Some common descriptions that may immediately come to mind are self-serving, manipulative, phony, or untrustworthy. You may conjure up images of secret pacts made behind closed doors or on the golf course. Or, perhaps, you came up with descriptions such as influential, well-connected, trustworthy, or concerned for others. Often, the idea of a leader being political is associated with negative perceptions and behaviors. In reality, though, political skill is a necessity and can be a positive skill for leaders to possess when used appropriately.

We define political skill as the ability to maximize and leverage relationships in order to achieve organizational, team, and individual goals.

Thought of in this way, political skill is a capability that leaders must demonstrate daily (Ferris et al. 2005). The challenges leaders face require working with, understanding, influencing, and motivating others—in order to define a clear direction and vision, align and gather resources to get work done, and build employee commitment and engagement. Two of the most common challenges faced by organizations are getting employees to collaborate effectively across multiple stakeholder groups (functions, teams, and divisions) and developing talent (identifying, developing, and rewarding others). Both of these require leaders to maximize and leverage relationships—they require political skill. Indeed, when we view political skill through this lens, it is difficult to envision any leader being effective without it.

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