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Leadership and followership
Leadership and followership

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4.3 Politically astute leadership

As internal and external interests and politics continue to diversify, Hartley et al. (2015) present a framework of political astuteness skills that will benefit leaders and managers across all sectors.

Professor Hartley explains the framework in the video at the top of this page: Leadership with political astuteness in tough times [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] . You can watch the video in its entirety if you would like (it is over 7 minutes long) or watch the section from 4:23 to 6.46 to hear specifically about the framework.

Activity 4 Are you politically astute?

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

View the dimensions of the framework below and consider whether you already use these skills or not. Are they relevant to your context?

Y = Yes, N = No and NR = Not Relevant

Table 2 Descriptions of political astuteness
Strategic direction and scanning
  1. Thinking long-term and having a road map of the journey.
  2. Scanning: thinking about longer-term issues which may potentially have an impact on the organisation.
  3. Analytical capacity to think through scenarios of possible futures.
  4. Keeping options open rather than making a decision prematurely.
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Building alignment and alliances
  1. Detailed appreciation of context, players and objectives of stakeholders.
  2. Working with difference and conflicts of interest, not just finding consensus and commonality.
  3. Actively seeking out new alliances and partnerships.
  4. Ability to bring difficult issues into the open.
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Reading people and situations
  1. Analysing or intuiting the dynamics which might occur when stakeholders and agendas come together.
  2. Recognising different interests and agendas of people and their organisations.
  3. Discerning the underlying, not just the espoused, agendas.
  4. Using knowledge of institutions, processes and social systems to understand what is happening or what might happen.
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Interpersonal skills
  1. Ability to influence the thinking and behaviour of others.
  2. Getting buy-in from those over whom you have no direct authority.
  3. Ability to negotiate; stand up to pressures from other people; handle conflict in order to achieve constructive outcomes.
  4. Coaching and mentoring individuals to develop their own political skills.
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Personal skills
  1. Self-awareness of one’s own motives and behaviours.
  2. Ability to exercise self-control; be open to the views of others; listen to others and reflect on and be curious about their views.
  3. Having a proactive disposition.
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Political astuteness is important both internally (refer to Week 6 to revisit internal politics) and externally. This framework presents a useful checklist of skills, attitudes and behaviours, particularly for a leader who is still developing their strategic thinking. The descriptions presented in the table have been shortened for presentation in this format. For full details, access the original reference.

Is there a future for leadership as we know it?

Several organisations are currently exploring alternatives to leadership in its traditional form. Shared leadership is one option (see Week 4, Section 3 for a reminder), and a more extreme model of this is ‘holacracy’. HolacracyOne, the organisation championing this approach, describes it as replacing ‘the conventional management hierarchy with a tested, customizable self-management practice that empowers people throughout an organization to make meaningful decisions and drive change.’ (HolacracyOne website, 2017) Essentially, authority is distributed, with all employees taking a leadership role and making key decisions.