The coach who avoids too much bench time for a player who's parents are on the club committee. The dissatisfied customer who is afraid to shop elsewhere because the store owner is a relative. The "supposedly equal" board member who holds the undercurrent of power because they have financially invested the most.
The pathway is not always clear when our minds are clouded with the political ramifications of the decisions we need to make. If I do this, so and so will do that, and if I say that, this is the likely result. Certainly life is complicated with so many people, their opinions and influence all around!
Life in the workplace is no different. The complex weave of relationships we work within, navigate and sometimes coordinate can be overwhelming. If you are in a leadership role, these complexities can be amplified because you may be responsible for challenging the status quo at times. Here are some insights as to why we may avoid challenging the status quo, but motivations that prove, after careful consideration, we may have to go ahead and do it anyway.
1. Be self aware. Aware of your own relationships and who the politicians within your spectrum are. Aware of the obligations you feel, and spend time determining how reasonable these obligations are, and who's interests they serve. Be aware of the impact these obligations have on you. Be aware of your tendency to avoid "upsetting the apple cart". Aware that the thought of "upsetting the apple cart" may cause your heart rate to elevate, and despite an outcome that you would desire, cause you to avoid it and suffer the consequences. (FYI. Elevated heart rates are the normal human response in these circumstances. What sets proactive, successful leaders apart from the rest, is their ability to identify and work through this, and take the controlled and measured steps required to do it anyway.)
2. People are capable of having multiple personas. Just because you have one experience of a person, does not mean you should discount the possibility that that person has the capacity to be different in other situations. If you are hearing negative feedback about an employee from other employees, that is not consistent with your experience of this person, investigate. Beware of "the teacher's pet" phenomenon!
3. Though people may not like what you have to say, because it doesn't suit them for various reasons, they should respect you for standing up and taking your position of leadership seriously. Maintain the golden rules though - communicate consistently, transparently and with respect in your own tone and content.
4. Consider the political ramifications, but don't let them stop you, particularly if there is a party at a very unfair advantage. Employees who operate in a constant state of feeling unjustly treated, will not be happy productive employees who sell your business without even meaning to, to your potential customers. They will do the opposite. Damage to your culture and potential growth.
5. Weigh up the risk. By all means, keep the politicians happy. But if keeping them happy comes at a great cost, does the cost outweigh the benefit?
6. Remember that no one is perfect - including you. Be kind to yourself. Be ok with the fact that you may have over looked something, or may not respond in the perfect way every time. And give the people you deal with the same courtesy. Give them the grace of assuming that even if they haven't done it well in the past, now it's been identified, they are likely to do it well in the future. (If you have extended that grace, one too many times, you probably need to refer to a different article on good performance management!)
I encourage you to take a seat - like on the bench chair depicted above - to reflect on all these things, before embarking on a path that could look a little like the one above - not exactly clear cut, with potential obstacles on either side. If you have considered all these steps and the politics that play a role in your workplace, and decide to take no action, congratulations - you are making an informed decision. That is far better than blundering your way through without any insight as to what's happening around you.