Politics and leadership go together like pasta and sauce. You cannot have one without the other. It’s fantastic when our leaders are chosen purely on merit, but that is rarely the case. Those who lead usually have political acumen above that of us mere mortals. And honestly, I do not begrudge them that. Leadership and the relationships that go with it are complicated. The right balance for any leader is to lead first and worry about politics second.
At a base level, you must be able to do the job as a leader. You have to make smart decisions and encourage your staff. Your empathy must be foremost to your work. Things must get better for you being there. If you are a leader who got there purely on politics, you don’t have the right tools. Employees can feel it when they are just a steppingstone to your success. When you make choices, your politics will out your inconsistencies. Consequently, your whole leadership style will be ineffective, your incompetence will be on full display, and you will stall out.
If you are great at the job, but terrible at politics, no one will ever know about you. Networking, socializing, and talking yourself up without bragging are important skills. If you are looking to be in leadership, they are necessary ones as well. Be the best leader you can be, obviously, but if you cannot talk about it positively, no one will ever really know about it.
In short, the best leaders have mastered the balance. Between politics and leadership, they focus on the latter. They make sure that their work has substance, that they develop positive relationships with their staff, that they are shining examples. And while they engage with politics, they make sure it is a light coating; spaghetti, not tomato soup with noodles.