With the popularity of books like “How to Win Friends and Influence People,”
there is no doubt that if you can inspire cooperation amongst your
team, you can more easily achieve greater personal and professional
Why then, are so many leaders afraid of office politics? The workplace
is a complex environment, shaped by diverse personalities and competing
agendas. Learning to navigate office politics is crucial. While we
aren’t running for office at work, you have goals and objectives, no
matter your position. Rarely can you establish and reach objectives
without help. Executives especially need to win the vote of their
constituents but who are those constituents? Major “voters” for senior
executives include managers who review them and colleagues who will
decide to go beyond the call of duty to help you finish a project.
Politicians live or die, in part by the favors they do……and office
politics are no different. The truly long-term successful executives do
more than help only as mandated. As one executive said, “I’d much
rather people owe me a favor than owe them one.” So, in honor of
President’s Day, here are three campaign slogans from the past to help
you win the vote and maintain a clear conscience at the same time.
1. “Who is James K. Polk?” – Henry Clay, 1844
Don’t let your name fall into obscurity in the corporate political arena. A blog by the Harvard Business Review
explains that the best way for others to know who you are and what you
want to accomplish is by building ongoing relationships with individuals
outside of your functional area. Treat relationships with value, even
where there is no immediate problem or need, or you will lack the
ability to exercise influence beyond your immediate team since others
may view your sudden relationship as a means of manipulation.
Cooperation and understanding are the cornerstones for every major
decision, and if no one knows you or your initiatives, why would they
2. “Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine. The Continental Liar from the State of Maine.” – Grover Cleveland, 1884
Grover Cleveland brought James G. Blaine’s principles under national
scrutiny when he learned that Blaine implemented unethical business
practices while working with railroad companies. Transparency is paramount
in communicating with internal employees and external stakeholders.
Remember, ethical business practices should be a given, but on a similar
note, know that if you make promises you can’t keep, you can rest
assured at least one peer will highlight your failure. Under promise and
over deliver, and you won’t disappoint your constituents. You want
colleagues to know your plans (see No. 1), but in order to rally your
team, they need to believe you can and will carry through with your
3. “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” – William Henry Harrison, 1840
refers to William Henry Harrison leading U.S. forces at the Battle of
Tippecanoe. The battle made him a national hero, but Harrison was smart
enough to realize there was another name on his ticket that voters
needed to rally around – his nominee for Vice President. As an
executive, it is your duty to champion your leadership team to others.
They are the future of the organization and will often be the ones
pushing for your initiatives in your absence. Lending them credibility
beforehand can only help.
to say, there will always be “organizational bullies” who want to guard
their turf and abuse their power, but politics can be good for an
organization when it is used as a tool to bring cohesion to a team and
motivate them toward a common organizational goal. The best leaders know
how to provide a vision and then unite cross-functional members behind
their initiatives. Now, put on your campaign button , stand behind your
podium and win those voters.