How to succeed in organizational politics and influence others

Kathleen J. Hectorne, MD: “The biggest misstep one can make is thinking you can ignore organizational politics.”

Kathleen J. Hectorne, MD: “The biggest misstep one can make is thinking you can ignore organizational politics.”

Aristotle said it first: Man is a political animal. With a little more specificity, Kathleen J. Hectorne, MD, agrees: Dermatologists are political animals.

“Everyone who works in a group setting is involved in the politics of the organization whether they know it or not,” said Dr. Hectorne, director of Friday’s session, “Managing Organizational Politics: Avoiding Political Missteps.” “We may not believe we are politically engaged in the organization, but we all fit into the structure of the organization one way or another.”

Dr. Hectorne, dermatologist with the Mayo Clinic Health System, Austin, Minnesota, and session co-director Seemal Desai, MD, founder of Innovative Dermatology, Plano, Texas, combined their interest and experience in organizational politics to discuss strategies for accomplishing goals in the fast-paced and ever-changing organizations that are the reality for dermatologists today.

Making a change in an organization requires influence, and it’s important to distinguish influence from power, said Dr. Hectorne, who also is president-elect of the Women’s Dermatologic Society. Influence is the ability to create change in a human behavior. “You can influence yourself or other individuals, you can influence multiple people at once, say on a department level. You can also influence the workplace environment to move closer to your goal.”

Power is the ability to get others to do what you want them to do whether they agree with you or not, Dr. Hectorne said. It can be positional, such as a department chair giving an order, but it can also be in the hands of the workers who may not want to follow the order. Power can start or stop an action. It is usually visible in organizations, and the rules are clear about who has it. Influence, on the other hand, is often less visible, happening outside traditional organizational reporting lines.

“In dermatology as in many other areas, we find ourselves in a very interconnected world that is more collaborative and team-based where traditional power relationships are not sufficient, or even desirable, to get things done,” she said.

The biggest misstep one can make is thinking you can ignore organizational politics.

She stressed that it is important for people to understand how decisions are made. “There may be the formal hierarchical ‘decisions flow down from the top,’ but most decisions are made in a less formal process,” she said. “Figure out what that process is.”

Next, learn from people who have moved quickly up the ladder in your organization. “How do they get support, involvement, visibility, information? How do they trade their ‘political currency?’”

Because you can’t have a relationship with everyone in your organization, Dr. Hectorne suggests finding those who have influence — upward and downward — and build rapport with them. Finally, have a plan. “If there is something you don’t like or want to change, you will be most successful if you come with a plan that addresses the issue and offers a solution,” she said. “Bring ideas to the table to solve the problem.”

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