Leadership Motivation Organisation Development

Politics at Work, a Lesson in Leadership

With the current acrimony  after BREXIT and with the USA Presidential Elections, is it any wonder that most people have a negative perspective of politics?

Politics is typically associated with backstabbing and pushing your own agenda at a cost to others. So it’s not surprising that people usually don’t like the idea of politics in business or the workplace. But politics is human nature and to ignore it is to ignore reality. For example, 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.

Mastering the Art of Politics

The term ‘Machiavellian’ is often used to negatively label those who use surreptitiously use power and politics to get their own way;  but this may be paying a disservice to Niccolo Machiavelli ( 1469 -1527) who wrote ‘the’ handbook for politics and human nature called “The Prince”. I read The Prince as a young man and now recommend that my Executive Coaching clients read “The New Machiavelli” 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 centralize it
  • You should never believe your own publicity

Leadership Lessons

It is uncanny how Machiavelli’s description of an ideal leader is as relevant today as it was in the fifteenth century. He suggest an effective 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 well-being.

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

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