Leadership and the Art of Politics

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As a leadership consultant and  executive coach I am often asked by my clients to help them understand and navigate organisational politics.Most people I speak to have a negative perspective of politics, they associate it with backstabbing and pushing your own agenda at a cost to others. I have a different perspective; my experience is that business politics is about human nature and to ignore it is to ignore reality. In a perfect world the best workers would be promoted on merit alone and the best ideas would be adopted regardless of personal interest – but we do not live in Utopia we live in the real world. If you want to survive and prosper in the real world you need to combine good work with smart politics.

The term ‘Machiavellian’ is often used to negatively label those who have mastered the Art of Politics in Businesss but this may be paying a disservice to Nicolo Machievelli ( 1469 -1527) who wrote a handbook for politics and human nature called “The Prince”. I read The Prince as a young man but I recommend that my coaching clients read “The New Machievelli” by Alistair McAlpine.

McAlpine’s book is a practical and readable guide to mastering the Art of Politics in which he explains why:

  • Loyalty is not a reliable factor in the workplace
  • Great power is held by the “little people” in a business
  • It is better to spread power than to centralise it
  • You should never believe your own publicity

I have just picked up the book again and was impressed by how Machievelli’s description of an ideal leader is as relevant today as it was in the fifteenth century. He suggest a natural leaders will:

  • Be guided by as sense of morality, he/she has a philosophy for life and business
  • Be able to assess the loyalty of his followers as well as demonstrate loyalty to them
  • Be trustworthy and be known to be trustworthy
  • Be fair; even if the leader has to make an unpopular decision, if it is fair he/she will be respected
  • Be able to accurately judge a follower’s ability
  • Always act in a way that commands respect and beyond that, respect others
  • Resist trading old friends for new
  • Never shirk responsibility or fail to express gratitude to others
  • Look after their own health, have a balance of mind body and spirit

Finally a leader must have a sense of their own place in history, for that will ensure wellbeing.

Much of what Machievelli is advocating here has been validated by modern research, Kouzes and Posner imediately spring to mind. What is refreshing is that Machievelli accepts that these are ideals that we should look for in those that we follow and aspire to develop in ourselves. How did you do with the list?

Andrew Bryant

Andrew Bryant is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) and a Professional Certified Coach (PCC). Originally trained as a physiotherapist, Andrew became curious about what makes the difference in performance whilst working with athletes. This led him to study positive psychology, hypnosis, NLP, organisational behaviour and leadership, NeuroSemantics, Meta-Coaching, and even traditional Chinese medicine. Andrew uses these skills to model the good and bad of leadership behaviour and now have an ability to ‘see’ the systems in an organisational culture and find leverage points for development.

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