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Lead Your Team Leadership

Want to Be a Better Leader? Build Your Political Skills

Want to Be a Better Leader? Build Your Political Skills
Credit: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

"Getting political" at work doesn't necessarily mean arguing about the election. 

According to a study recently published in the Leadership & Organization Development Journal, strong political skills like building connections, fostering trust and influencing others are essential qualities of a transformational leader – and they can make you happier, too.

"Most people think of political skills as manipulative and negative but, basically, it is building connections with other people," Andrew Wefald, one of the study's authors and a professor at Kansas State University, said in a statement. "In a positive sense, politically skilled people foster supportive and trusting environments to benefit organizations and are going to be more transformational leaders, which will lead to higher job satisfaction."

Wefald said the four main components of political skill – networking ability, apparent sincerity, social astuteness and interpersonal influence – are all areas good leaders excel in. [See Related Story: DiSC Assessment: What Kind of Leader Are You?]

"Someone with those skills is going to be in a better position to help the organization because they will be better able to get things done than someone who doesn't have those skills," Wefald said.

For the study, researchers surveyed 278 employees to assess the relationship among interpersonal skills, work engagement, transformational leadership and job satisfaction.

The study's authors tested three types of interpersonal skills: emotional control, the control of one's own emotions; emotional sensitivity, the understanding emotions of others; and political skills, the ability to understand people and influence them in ways that contribute to success.

Out of the three skill types, political skill was the only one to have an independent positive relationship with transformational leaders and their job satisfaction.

The study's authors also discovered that those who were highly engaged in their work had both high transformational leadership and political skills.

"Work engagement is the level of a person's physical, mental and emotional energy with their job and if they are fulfilled from that work," Wefald said. "Being engaged at work leads to several positives for the individual, such as more energy and stamina, and the organization, such as less employee turn over."

Wefald believes organizations can benefit by working to improve political skills in its leaders.

"Someone who is able to get along with everybody, get things done and is on board with the projects being done is going to help an organization as well as his or her own career," he said.

Wefald admits, though, that trying to develop political skills is easier with some employees than others.

"It is a developable skill but there are many personality traits and variables that may prevent a person from developing a high level of the skill from nothing," Wefald said. "Some people's window might be wider, some people's might be narrower — it's just going to depend on the person they are and their personality."

The study was co-authored by Kansas State University alumni Kyle van Ittersum, an assistant professor at Angelo State University, and Jennifer Mencl, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Chad  Brooks
Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.