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Office Politics. Who Can Keep Track?

It is a fact of life: if you work in an organization there will be political dynamics as individuals jockey for status, power and influence. There is no way around this. You can get fed up and decide to go to another company but, sadly, the grass won’t be greener. In my experience people fall into three camps: those that do everything they can to ignore the politics, those that hate them and those that get a rush out of playing the game. Since politics is a given, here are some observations and guidance for what happens in the real world.

  • Politics run amok can cause damage…to people, the company, the brand and results. For executives who claim you have to be savvy and know how to play the game and this is just normal and put on your big girl pants etc. you are taking an extremely short view of things. You are not paying attention to the harm that is being created. The more the staff mistrusts you (because it is apparent your own aims are paramount), the more the game is evident to all and the more people see that there are too many CYA decisions…bad things will happen. Talent will leave, social media sites will light up with the inside scoop, staff that remain will be disengaged and productivity will drop. Why bother hanging around if the game is rigged?
  • The most skilled politicians don’t always win. They may do a fantastic job of managing up but eventually the bad news will make its way up too. When promotions and raises are discussed there is a closer examination of what you’ve actually accomplished and what people really think of you. Be very careful about who you have kicked on the way up. Very few political creatures are able to fool enough people. The behavior is usually quite transparent and on full display.
  • Politics is hell on VPs and Directors. While they are just trying to do a good job they find themselves in the midst of some serious executive posturing. X is trying to win favor with the CEO so elbows Y out of the way. X and Y turn to their teams and badmouth each other and urge them to join in the battle with their counterparts. This is way above their pay grade and they sense they can get seriously hurt if they misstep. All the while they are losing respect for X and Y and start answering those recruiter calls.
  • Keeping your head down won’t necessarily protect you from becoming an unintended consequence. You may opt out of the game and just stay focused on what you have control over but you might not be able to engage enough cooperation from others who are essential to you achieving your goals. And if you never lift your head up to toot your own horn you might not get that juicy assignment or promotion. You have to be in the game just a bit to position yourself.
  • Being completely turned off or disgusted by the politics doesn’t usually work. Your disdain and disrespect is palpable and that sends a message that you can’t stand your bosses. Never a good move. Trust me, I understand the feelings. Just don’t wear them on your sleeve. Find a zone where you can navigate some of the waters without losing your own self respect.
  • Politics at the top is one of the most cited reasons why women leave once they arrive in the board room. The amount of energy spent grandstanding and chest beating and brow beating is something women (generally) don’t value. Not that they don’t want the titles and control and status. They just want to focus most of their attention on the business and people rather than self aggrandizement. I’m not suggesting that women aren’t good at or enjoy playing politics. I’m just reporting the research.
  • If it serves the greater good then politics can be admired. If back room deals are being cut and opportunities seized and favorable positions are sought that serve the best interests of the company…yeah! Staff will appreciate those efforts because everyone wins. Sadly, most politics are self serving and that’s why they get such a bad rap.

Leaders, don’t think for a minute that selfish acts wrapped up in “we” language aren’t seen for what they are. Even if your actions put you in good light this round, posturing is not made for a steady diet. When it becomes widely known that you are not championing the best interests of the enterprise you will find yourself out in the cold.

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