Managing People Politics

Managing People Politics

Keep the Opposition Close

To survive and succeed in exercising leadership, you must work as closely with your opponents as you do with your supporters. Most of us cringe at spending time with and especially taking abuse from people who do not share our vision or passion. Too often we take the easy road, ignoring our opponents and concentrating on building an affirmative coalition. But rather than simply recognising your own anxiety and ploughing ahead, you need to read this anxiety both as a vulnerability on your part and as a signal about the threat you represent to the opposing factions.

These are clues to the resistance you will face, made worse if you do not engage with your opposition.

People who oppose what you are trying to accomplish are usually those with the most to lose by your success. In contrast, your allies have the least to lose. In other words, opponents who turn around pay dearly in terms of disloyalty to their own roots and constituency; for your allies to come along may cost nothing. For that reason, your opponents deserve more of your attention, as a matter of compassion as well as a tactic of strategy and survival.

Keeping your opposition close connects you with your diagnostic job too. If it is crucial to know where people are at, then the people most critical to understand are those likely to be the most upset by your agenda.

While relationships with allies and opponents are essential, it's also true that the people who determine your success are often those in the middle, who resist your initiative merely because it will disrupt their life and make their future uncertain. You need to ensure that their general resistance to change doesn't morph into a mobilisation to push you aside. What follows are four steps you can take that are specifically focused on them.

Accept Responsibility for Your Piece of the Mess

If you have been in a senior role for awhile and there's a problem, it is almost certain that you had some part in creating it and are part of the reason it has not yet been addressed. Even if you are new, or outside the organisation, you need to identify those behaviours you practise or values you embody that could stifle the very change you want to advance.

When you are too quick to lay blame on others, whether inside or outside the community, you create risks for yourself. Obviously, you risk misdiagnosing the situation. But you also risk making yourself a target by denying that you are part of the problem and that you too need to change. After all, if you are pointing your finger at them - pushing them to do something they don't want to do - the easiest option for them is to get rid of you. The dynamic becomes you versus them. But if you are with them, facing the problem together and each accepting some share of responsibility for it, then you are not as vulnerable to attack.

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