Politics, Positive Politics and Leadership

Politics, positive politics and leadership

The world is once again standing on a precipice of war.  Who knows what is going to happen in the Ukraine, nor whether the tensions there will escalate and who may get dragged should any conflict break out.

As a leadership and development consultancy it’s not really for us to comment on the realpolitik of the situation, but it is to reflect on the leadership we have seen.

In our work we frequently get asked about politics at work.  Every time that questions is raised, a conversation overheard between two leaders come to mind.  One of them was trying to get promoted in an organisation with quite a bureaucratic and complex promotion system.  They complained loudly that they didn’t like the politics associated with the promotion process.  The other leader simply remarked that if they thought of it as influencing did that make it better.  The silence spoke volumes. As did their promotion some months later.

Some years ago, we heard Ken Livingstone speak about politics – he said politics was simply about the accumulation and wielding of power.  And power is a function of the resources commanded by an individual, their importance and their scarcity.  And that is as true in an organisation as it is in the wider environment.  Troop build ups are, in that light, simply the resources in question – the more you have, the better they are and the less your opponent has, the more power you have.

So, what distinguishes positive politics. At its heart it is the difference between acting with integrity and psychological game playing.  The leader with integrity focusses on organisational purpose, takes account of others both as individuals and their wants/needs, has a capacity for friendship, is open and shares information and likes win:win solutions.  Game players on the other hand are interested in power and being powerful, manipulate situations to appear as though they never make mistakes, like games involving winners and losers, and recognise and exploit weaknesses in allies and opponents alike.

In this light, the footage of a top team being coerced into agreeing a course of action that many appeared uncomfortable with speaks of game playing; and also highlights the need for any leader to ensure that their team has people in it that are prepared to challenge decisions, and know that they will be listened to. Indeed, we heard about one CEO who refused to allow their board to make a significant decision if no one on the board had seriously challenged the idea to ensure that that they had thought it through carefully.

Reflecting on organisational purpose also raises important questions.  As mentioned, we are not well enough versed in the realpolitik of the situation to comment knowledgeably, but we encourage leaders to focus on the four Ps – Purpose, Planet, People and Profit/Surplus.  Debating the purpose of a nation state is perhaps an overdue conversation around the world, but no one today can ignore the need for us all to be focussing on the health of the plant and, post pandemic, the wellbeing of the people in our organisation and with whom our organisation interacts.

Who knows how events in the Ukraine will unfold, but we hope that courageous leaders with integrity come to the fore, and psychological game playing is eschewed in favour of a course that has at its heart the wellbeing of all the people involved and the wider care of the planet.