GWII Leaderwalk – Navigating office politics

In collaboration with Business Engage and the 30% Club, Gauteng Women in Insurance (GWII) hosted a Leaderwalk on 8 March, with main sponsors Camargue, Garrun Group, Leppard and Associates and Santam.

In this leaderwalk themed ‘Navigating Office Politics’, Niven Postma, a strategy, leadership and culture consultant, took attendees through the five myths of office politics and guided them on how to navigate office politics effectively, ethically and successfully.

Five myths of office politics

When it comes to office politics, the words that come to mind are commonly negative, said Postma.

You have to develop a political will. However, there are five myths that stand in the way of political will, according to Postma:

  1. Myth 1 - You can either be a good person or play politics. Office politics are the informal, unofficial; and sometimes behind the scenes tactics and efforts that people use in organisations to sell ideas, influence people, increase power or achieve other objectives. When it works for us, we call it strategy. When it works against us, we call it politics.
  2. Myth 2 - it’s possible to avoid politics. The question is not whether organisations will have politics, but what kind of politics they will have. Brace yourself for either minimally politicised environments, moderately politicised environments, highly politicised environments or pathologically politicised environments.
  3. Myth 3 - Politics don’t make a difference to your career. The single biggest mistake I’ve seen women make at work is that all too often, they ‘treat work like school’, i.e. think that if they do everything right, keep their head down and get on with things, their efforts will be noticed and rewarded and they will ‘get an A’” - Sallie Krawcheck, CEO and Founder of Ellevest. Organisations are shaped by political processes. This is a fact and one that applies in all organisations. So, you need to accept it and manage it, understanding that without sufficient political intelligence, you will fail. Developing political intelligence isn’t easy and you’ll never be perfect at it, but it is something that everyone can – and should – learn
  4. Myth 4 - Politics disappear in virtual environments. No, this has not disappeared. Who is in the room and what are they saying?
  5. Myth 5 - Political intelligence is a trait not a skill. Why do some people pay toll fees at work and others cruise the open highway. Because there’s people on the inside with power and then there’s the outsiders. There is a toll fee of opportunity, if you have good networks. Then, there is influence and scrutiny.

“However, the quality of our relationships is what determines the quality of our lives. No wonder then that there are increasing rates of depression, anxiety and suicide all over the world. Rates that have only increased as a result of COVID and all that it brought to - and took away from – our lives.  But the connections that really make a difference in our life are relationships,” she said.

Political will and skill

“If you have political will, then you need to work on political skills; manage your stakeholders appropriately and deliberately, understand that allies are more useful than friends and stay focused on what matters,” she added.

When an employee becomes a problem, a marked shift occurs in the manager’s thinking; instead of considering how to either coach or cope with the employee, the manager is now starting to fantasize about how pleasant life would be if this bothersome person were gone and to wonder how many ‘last chances’ need to be provided before the axe falls.

If you are in danger of becoming the problem, how are you going to reduce it? Do you have enough of the right support? If not, how are you going to get it? Do you have enough leverage? If not, how are you going to increase it? You either change it or quit the job.

Crafting your political strategy

  1. Know what you want to achieve
  2. Build and use your leverage
  3. Identify and minimise your opposition
  4. Identify and maximise your support
  5. Use your energy wisely

Each table host and seven people got Postma’s best-selling book ‘If You Don't Do Politics, Politics Will Do You’ - a guide to navigating office politics ethically and successfully, sponsored by Tracker.

A discussion

We thank our table hosts (below) for accepting our challenge to facilitate discussions:

  1. Carlo Van Zyl, National Key Accounts Manager (Tracker)
  2. Christelle Colman, CEO (Ami Underwriting Managers)
  3. Ellen Gower-Mzolo, Chief Financial Officer (Fulcrum Group SA)
  4. Jennifer Porteous, Claims, Legal and Compliance Manager (Camargue Underwriting Managers)
  5. René Lee, People & Culture Manager (Garrun Group)
  6. Steve von Roretz, Director (Leppard and Associates)
  7. Tebogo Moalusi, Executive Associate: Strategic Business Development (Santam Insurance)
  8. Thokozile Mahlangu, CEO (Insurance Institute of South Africa)

In the feedback session, all the table hosts agreed with the comments that Postma shared.

Thank you

Thank you to all the delegates who attended this event, we hope that the session inspired you, as a leader, to navigate office politics effectively, ethically and successfully.

Thank you to our sponsors Camargue, Garrun Group, Leppard and Associates, Santam and tracker for making this event possible!

See photo album here