leadership skills

3 Truths and 6 Power Skills to Master Organization Politics

Organization politics make a lot of people uncomfortable. The untrained hope is that if politics are ignored, and if a job is done well, then well-earned rewards will come. Things rarely play out that way.

Organization politics is defined as anything done at work to increase the odds of success that has nothing at all to do with the work itself. Master executive coach and workplace psychologist, Dr. Dory Hollander, presents three unassailable truths about how things work in organizations and Six Power Skills for mastering the art of career enhancement.

Unassailable Truths

Truth 1 — There is Insider-Outsider Sorting

  • All organizations continuously sort people into insiders or outsiders.
  • There are things that distinguish insiders from outsiders among various stakeholder groups.
  • Insider/outsider status is subject to change.
  • Being an insider in one group is no guarantee of being an insider in another.
  • Leaders can help newcomers transition to insiders or let them struggle. The former makes more sense

Truth 2 –There is Clashing of Self-Interests among Stakeholders

  • Clashes between people and groups with differing self-interests are normal; not nutty.
  • It is best to spot and manage inevitable stakeholder conflicts, clashes, and fallout; avoiding them is rarely wise.
  • A thick skin and solid negotiation skills put a leader, or anyone else for that matter, in position to address emerging conflicts with confidence.

Truth 3 — There are Hidden Alliances

  • Co-workers, friends, and even enemies will bond together in hidden alliances to win resources, rewards, and advantages.
  • Staying in touch with what is going on in the trenches to learn where these alliances are helping a leader avoid being blindsided.
  • Hidden alliances are revealed through frequent communication with diverse groups, aggressive relationship management, and strategic stakeholder interventions.

Power Skills

In light of these three truths Six Power Skills help leaders, and everyone else, to be politically savvy and to master the art of career enhancement:

Power Skill 1 — Become an Insider

  • Align yourself with the values and norms of your organization.
  • Make yourself visible across the organization.
  • Build relationships with people from diverse groups at all levels and across the organization.
  • Tune-in to the grapevine and hallway buzz in order to locate network information nodes.
  • Connect with respected insiders willing to advise and mentor.
  • Make others feel good in your presence, even when you disagree with them.
  • Choose your battles carefully; don’t battle too early in a new leadership position.

Power Skill 2 — Create Positive Perception

  • Ask for whatever you need to succeed, and then some.
  • Speak up early in meetings; waiting until you have something perfect to say takes power away from yourself.
  • Listen closely to what others are saying and why.
  • Make comments that build on those of others and acknowledge them as you do.
  • Present yourself as appropriately optimistic and unflappable.
  • Become known as a leader unafraid “to get your hands dirty rather than as a “high maintenance” or disengaged “prima donna”.
  • Enthusiastically and frequently communicate what you are planning, working on, and achieving to key stakeholders and potential sponsors and mentors.
  • When people ask “What are you working on or how is it going?” Don’t say “nothing much” or “fine.” Instead, tell them what great things you are working on and how things are going.
  • As a rising star, when you finish a project, show leadership by talking about the next steps to make clear you: “understand what we are trying to achieve here and this is what makes sense for me to do next”.

Power Skill 3 — Build Success-Critical Relationships

Identify 8-10 people at work who can help or hinder your success as a leader.

  • Cultivate relationships with each of them.
  • Find out who is “for” and who is “against” your success and initiatives.
  • Ask others to help move those who are “against” you to a neutral stance.
  • Treat these people as partners, even if they are against your success.
  • Seek and appreciate their advice and input on key issues.
  • Inform them of each of your successes and credit them for any role they played.
  • Ensure that their fingerprints, as well as your own, are on visible, and also on subtle, successes aligned with agreed-on strategies.

Power Skill 4 — Be Ready for Conflict

  • View conflict as an “opportunity to negotiate,” not as an “affront.”
  • When opposed, don’t flinch, refuse to take it personally.
  • Find out which alternatives, if any, opposing parties propose or support.
  • Be curious: hear the other side’s story, find out their wants, needs, underlying interests.
  • Get them to: hear your side of the story, learn your wants, needs, and underlying interests.
  • When threatened do not run or hide; simply hold your ground without being defensive.
  • Never avoid or accommodate as your first response to demands, whether they are reasonable or unreasonable unless personal safety is at stake.
  • Take a workshop in conflict resolution and/or read: Getting Together: Building Relationships as We Negotiate by Roger Fisher and Scott Brown.

Power Skill 5 — Share the Spotlight at Every Opportunity

  • Make unsolicited positive comments about other peoples’ contributions in meetings.
  • Talk about the good work of your teammates.
  • Help your management team, and those who support you, look good; see them as your work clan, your tribe.
  • Never throw anyone under the bus by blaming them for what goes wrong.
  • Separate liking and trust. Treat those who are against you as people you like; focus on commonalities, even if the trust is low.

Power Skill 6 — Have an Exit Strategy

  • Always be building skills, knowledge, experience, and contacts needed for your next position or capstone role.
  • Actively network outside your organization and let your network know when you are ready for a new opportunity.
  • Keep your updated resume and LinkedIn profile “head hunter-ready.”
  • Develop relationships with people who have knowledge or close contacts related to your next targeted positions.
  • Remember: in the long run, all jobs are temporary.


The content from this post is excerpted from Dr. Hollander’s article: “Politics: The Don’t Go Anywhere Without It Skill — A Primer on Political Defense and Success Every Leader Should Know” available in its entirety as an  IntelliVen insight.


Politics, The Don’t Go Anywhere Without It Skill

Editor’s Note: Article originally published on March 9, 2015, and updated August 16, 2020.

One thought on “3 Truths and 6 Power Skills to Master Organization Politics”

  1. In my personal view, number 5 “Share the Spotlight at Every Opportunity” is so very true. Without the team, nothing would been done. Remember, there is no good politician without the help of great and talented people around them.

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