Take the Lead: Make Inevitable Office Politics Work for You

In a Harvard Business Review Video IdeaCast, co-authors Linda A. Hill and Kent L. Lineback discussed some of the concepts in their book, Being the Boss: The 3 Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader. During the interview Hill and Lineback focused on one of the imperatives they address in their book: learning to effectively manage a network.

Lineback began by observing that one of the mistakes new managers often make – and one he made himself – is to try to completely avoid office politics; instead of using organizational politics constructively, they instead attempt to just not deal with it.

Hill continued by pointing out that organizations are inherently political entities that are made up of people, with a diversity of perspectives and needs, who are often dealing with tough choices about the scarce resources within the organization. These sources of conflict create the political dynamics that leaders need to pay attention to and address – not avoid. Managers shouldn’t be afraid of or ignore that political dynamic within an organization; they should instead learn to use it constructively for the benefit of their team. Lineback added that, “Powerlessness corrupts. The lack of power corrupts. If you don’t have power then you can’t stand up for what you believe is right in an organization.”

Hill explained that there are three types of networks that a leader needs to learn to manage effectively for the best interests of their team as well as for their own benefit; she went on to briefly explain the purpose of each network:

  • Operational Network – the people who help get you and your team’s job done in a daily way.
  • Strategic Network – the people who help you keep track of what’s going on, who scan the environment and identify opportunities your team could take advantage of and challenges or threats your team should be preparing for.
  • Developmental Network – the people who help you continue to grow and develop; Hill noted that fundamentally we are very practical and social learners, and, “who you know determines what you get to do, and what you get to do will determine what you get to know.”

Hill acknowledged that these networks often overlap, which is good, because all of these relationships take a lot of time and energy to cultivate. She went on to say that in order to determine who should be in each network, you must first be clear about what you’re trying to get done and where you’re trying to go. “Unless you have an understanding of what the plan is for the group and what the plan is for your own developmental needs, you’re not going to be in a very good position to figure out who you should be targeting to try to build relationships with.”

Lineback added that, “You need to also understand the company and where it’s trying to go. Your plans need to fit with the company, and you need to understand how the company is going to work in the future. You need to understand how your group’s plans fit with that.”

Lineback offered the reminder, “You can’t create a good relationship by only seeing someone when there is a problem. Problems are not a great way to build a relationship. You need to create the relationship, and then the problems get seen and dealt with within the context of the relationship that already exists.”

Hill and Lineback warned against the tendency to create networks only with people you have to deal with and with people you like – networking needs to be intentional and targeted, built strategically around the needs of your team. “As the leader, your responsibility is to create the conditions necessary for your group to be successful,” said Hill in conclusion; networking is one way to do this.

How about you, are you creating the conditions necessary for your team to be successful? Do you have a strong network that allows you to take advantage of the insights, perspectives and expertise of those around you? Take the advice of these experts and focus on managing your Operational, Strategic, and Developmental networks – I guarantee you, the return on investment will be remarkable!

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I am a leader, speaker, and author who is passionate about Leadership Excellence and Achieiving Greater Success. I am the author of the books Be An Inspirational Leader(2016) and Presidential Leadership (2013), and deliver keynote presentations on those topics and several others.

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