Can You Manage At Work Without Politics?
Kathleen Kelley Reardon is Professor Emerita of Management at University of Southern California Marshall School of Business.
She earned her Ph.D. summa cum laude and with distinction at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst after receiving her BA degree with honors from University of Connecticut at Storrs. Kathleen is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi and Mortar Board.
Her primary areas of scholarly interest have been leadership communication, persuasion, politics in the workplace, negotiation and interpersonal communication. Public Opinion Quarterly described her first book, Persuasion in Practice, as a landmark contribution to the field.
Kathleen has taught negotiation, leadership and politics in the MBA, Executive MBA, and International MBA. For 15 years, she served on the USC Preventive Medicine faculty, developing interventions aimed at changing health habits among high-risk populations. She also served as associate director with Warren Bennis of the USC Leadership Institute.
She has authored 10 books and numerous articles, including three for The Harvard Business Review. Her 2001 book The Secret Handshake: Mastering the Politics of the Business Inner Circle (Currency, Doubleday) became an Amazon.com nonfiction and business best seller. It was followed by The Skilled Negotiator (Jossey-Bass, 2004), It’s All Politics: Winning in a World Where Hard Work and Talent Aren’t Enough (Currency, Doubleday, 2005), Childhood Denied: Ending the Nightmare of Child Abuse and Neglect (Sage, 2008), and Comebacks at Work: Using Conversation to Master Confrontation (Harper Business, 2010).
Her first novel, Shadow Campus, is an inside look at the politics of academia, a mystery-thriller and a love story. Forbes described it as a “masterful debut.” The sequel is underway for publication in 2015.
Kathleen was awarded the 2013 Humanitarian Award by the University of Connecticut Alumni Association based on her contributions to underserved groups, especially in originating and working to develop college prep academies for foster teens (www.firststar.org).
Kathleen is a signature blogger at Huffington Post (since 2005) and also blogs at her website (www.kathleenkelleyreardon.com).
The answer to that question is, probably not. Wherever people come together seeking goals – whether the same or different ones – and especially where there is competition for scarce resources, politics is there. Political arenas run along a continuum from minimally to highly and even pathologically political. The character of the arena in which you work dictates the extent to which political acumen becomes a necessity.
As I described in the first of a Harvard Business Review blog series on politics posted this week, the political landscape where most of us work shifts over time. While it may be possible to remain a political purist (at least for a while) in some jobs in certain organizations, it is risky to wait around until politics reaches a point beyond your expertise.
The more effective route is to prepare for politics. Keep in mind that not all forms of politics are devious or underhanded. Some political skills are actually no more than good people skills, like interpersonal sensitivity: knowing when to bring up which topics, when to push for something you believe is important, managing conflict to avoid unnecessary flare-ups, and causing others to feel good about working with you.
Additional, relatively basic and constructive forms of political know-how include:
- Creating a positive impression - assuring that key people find you and your ideas interesting.
- Positioning – being in the right place at the right time.
- Cultivating mentors – locating experienced advisors.
- Lining up your ducks – making sure any idea you advance has support from the right people.
- Developing a favor bank – doing for others, not only because you want to, but so that someday when you need to call in a chit, you will have the “currency” to do so.
Why, you might ask yourself, should I spend my valuable time managing politics instead of doing my job? The truth is that understanding politics is required to do your job in most of today’s organizations.
Why not start by assessing how things get done -- by whom and in what ways -- where you work? Seek guidance if it’s available from people who are adept at managing politics. Become a student of politics. Learn, for example, to detect disconnects between what is said and what is done, between what is requested and what is rewarded. In most organizations, there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye. It never pays to be the last one to know.
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