Leadership and the Art of Politics in Business

April 10, 2012 by  
Filed under Business

This article is contributed by Andrew Bryant, founder of Self Leadership International.

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?

Source: Self Leadership Coaching Blog

About Andrew Bryant

As a globally recognized authority on self-leadership and developing people, Andrew Bryant is highly sought after for his ability to inspire people to question conventional wisdom and take actions that result in positive outcomes. His unique presentation style blends constructive realism with humor to entertain and engage audiences worldwide.

Andrew has extensive experience as a consultant and executive coach to senior leaders, leadership and sales teams across the Asia Pacific region. He is the founder of Self Leadership International, a provider of Leadership and People Development Solutions including: consulting, coaching, facilitation and training.

Andrew Bryant is a Certified Professional Speaker and is in demand worldwide as an inspirational conference speaker and facilitator. His book Self-leadership will be published in 2012 by McGraw-Hill.

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