Office politics are a part of any job. It’s no different in the university setting. Knowing what political landmines to avoid could mean the difference between damaging your reputation or setting yourself up for long-term career success.
An important part of being a leader is developing your political acumen. That means knowing how to navigate the political landscape, and how to handle certain situations as they arise.
Here are 5 political landmines to avoid as a higher ed leader:
This may be school, but it isn’t high school. It’s best to avoid getting caught up in the gossip train at work. Sure, you may gain some friends. But being known as the “gossiper” isn’t a title you want, and will likely make others lose respect for you. A true leader and executive shares information in a professional way.
2) Going Against Organizational Changes
When you oppose an organizational change, you’re going against those at the top who enacted the change. And that doesn’t put you in a good position as a leader. Of course, you may be faced with the dilemma of having to champion a change that you don’t necessarily agree with. But refusing it or complaining about it isn’t the best way to handle it.
(Note: There may be times when you have a moral reason for not agreeing with an institutional change. In this case, bringing your thoughts to upper management – or in an extreme case, leaving the university – may be warranted. I’m not referring to those situations here.)
For more tips, check out this article from Insperity on 9 TIps for Communicating Decisions You Don’t Agree With.
3) Relying on Confidentiality
In a workplace, there’s no such thing as talking “off the record.” Don’t disclose information to anyone that you wouldn’t want to be shared across the organization. In addition, if a staff member comes to you and asks to speak off the record, make it clear that you have an obligation to disclose information if it has to do with discrimination, harassment, a potential conflict of interest, etc.
4) Fueling Interpersonal Conflicts
Where there are people, there will be conflicts. Conflict in the workplace is inevitable, and it can often be healthy (when handled correctly). The main thing to remember: don’t pick a side. Remain neutral, and allow each side a chance to be heard.
For more tips on handling team conflicts, check out or blog post on 4 Tips for Handling Team Conflicts as a Leader.
5) Getting Political (Literally)
While you could argue it’s best to avoid talking about politics at work altogether, there may be times when it is appropriate. Especially in higher ed, there may be policies that directly affect your university, and therefore should be openly discussed. However, you want to avoid interjecting your own political opinions into these discussions. Doing so could offend or alienate others. Make sure that discussions about policies remain objective.
Navigating office politics can be tricky, but it’s important to be self-aware if you want to build a lasting career in higher education. Hopefully these tips will give you some guidance as you begin your career as a senior university leader.
Looking for additional resources to help you navigate senior leadership in higher ed? Download our free University Leadership Roadmap: 7 Steps to Jumpstart Your Leadership Journey for Women of Color in Higher Ed.
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