Tech Leadership In So Many Words … #12 Politics

Andrew Weaver
August 4, 2023

Julian Costley is a highly experienced CEO, entrepreneur, investor and publisher based in the UK, but with a CV that includes working in and with corporates around the world.

He’s also one of the most popular lecturers on our executive leadership course, The Digital MBA for Technology Leaders.

However …. there is one section in his CTO Academy lecture on “How to be effective at executive level” which provokes as much debate as any other within the entirety of this extensive course.

In this lecture he warns that once you reach the senior level in any organisation of size ….

“Politics and the managerial time and energy it soaks up, becomes a fact of life”

and that and depending on the size and culture of a particular organisation,

it can take up to 20% of your time to manage”.

So as you climb into senior leadership roles a key task will be negotiating the political waters within your organisation and just as importantly, protecting your team and allowing them to do their jobs.

It’s therefore important to understand the ecosystems operating around you and how they interact (or don’t) with each other. Your task as a manager and a leader is to become adept at both recognising and interpreting the nuances of those dynamics. 

Ask yourself, what department feeds off what, where are the major players, who are the hawks and doves within an organisation?

And once you’ve acquired sufficient insight to identify the politics happening around you, how should you respond?

No less a figure than Albert Einstein recommended that if you are playing a game, you must learn the rules, “and then you have to play better than anyone else”.

This is rarely easy, particularly for those of us not always interested in and/or good at politics.

I remember when completing my own MBA that I found myself for the first time in my life alongside future captains of industry, for whom the politics was part of the fun and some of them were clearly naturals.

But to be pre-warned is to be pre-armed and it certainly makes your senior role more challenging if you try and play at politics badly — that’s a sure fire way to lose friends and alienate people.

If you can, the key is to be aware but avoid playing the game altogether and focus instead on building strong relationships that can withstand political manoeuvrings.

Prioritise creating a culture based on honesty and trust in your interactions with c-suite colleagues, your team and with other departments within the company.

This will lead the way to the kind of frank and open communication that is, as much as anything can be, politics-proof.

“In weak companies, politics win. In strong companies, the best ideas do” — Steve Jobs

Want to find out more about CTO Academy and our Technology Leadership Courses, including lectures and discussions that look at Corporate Politics?

Visit the CTO Academy Website and in particular our executive leadership course, The Digital MBA for Technology Leaders that is winning rave reviews from global technology leaders

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