According to Andrew Wefald, associate professor at the Staley School of Leadership Studies in Kansas State University, political skill – which he defines as the ability to build connections, foster trust, and influence other people – is a fundamental quality of transformational leaders. In fact, having highly developed political skills can increase job satisfaction and engagement.
"Most people think of political skills as manipulative and negative but, basically, it is building connections with other people," Wefald said. "In a positive sense, politically skilled people foster supportive and trusting environments to benefit organisations and are going to be more transformational leaders, which will lead to higher job satisfaction."
These and other insights were highlighted in a study entitled “Transformational leader attributes: interpersonal skills, engagement, and well-being”. The study examined the correlations between interpersonal skills, work engagement, transformational leadership, and job satisfaction using surveys from 278 employees.
Wefald and his collaborators—Kyle van Ittersum, assistant professor at Angelo State University, and Jennifer Mencl, associate professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth—tested three types of interpersonal skills:
1. Emotional control (defined as the ability to control one’s emotions)
2. Emotional sensitivity (defined as the ability to understand the emotions of others)
3. Political skills (defined as understanding people and being able to influence them in ways that contribute to personal, group, or organisational success)
Out of the three interpersonal skills, political skill was the only one that had an independent positive relationship with transformational leaders and their job satisfaction. Wefald further identified four components of political skill: networking ability, apparent sincerity, social astuteness, and interpersonal influence.
"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 said organisations could use this information to develop the political skills of their employees or identify employees with those skills.
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Hit television shows such as House of Cards may have demonised political maneuvering in the eyes of many people, but political skills aren’t inherently corrupt.