I once had a boss who informed me there was no such thing as
company politics. At the time, I decided that depended on whether you were
the person wielding power or influenced by it. In my career experience, I'd
categorize self-serving antics, sabotaging behaviors, information hoarding
and artful manipulation under the heading of company politics. I'd throw in
veiled threats, perpetuated mistruths, finger-pointing and coercion.
There's a long list of behaviors I've personally experienced or witnessed
in the workplace under the politics label. And I'm sure you can add your own.
These negative work cultures are fraught with fear. Fear you'll step on a
career grenade, lose your job, be labeled a trouble-maker or relegated to
the non-promotable category. Fear you'll say the wrong thing, fall into
project quicksand, find no support or be kept out of the loop. These
soul-depleting cultures trample self-esteem, negate initiative, encourage
survival behavior and diminish motivation.
But in twenty years in management I've learned something else about company
politics. It doesn't have to be a blood-sport. The politics label can be
assigned to assisting other departments, supporting company initiatives,
cooperating with those in charge, sharing information, and helping others
achieve results. You see, strategic alignments, interdepartmental
collaboration and volunteering for additional work assignments are
Politics can be served with a negative or a positive impact. Samuel B.
Bacharach, a Cornell University professor, puts it this way in Get Them on
Your Side: "Politics is simply the way we influence others to achieve our
goals. As long as those goals are positive, and not achieved at the expense
of others, the politics of getting them accomplished is neither
manipulative nor negative. Dictators may be political, but saints might be,
It's the intention behind an action that determines whether politics
creates fear or builds relationships. What's the motive? If politics is a
dirty word where you work, undermining results and reducing staff
engagement, consider your contribution to that culture.
You see, we have a choice how we use our power and influence. And don't be
na´ve to think you don't have both. We all have power and influence over
people in our lives: staff, coworkers, family, bosses, children. We can
serve our brand of politics from well-intentioned thoughts or manipulative
self-interest. And each impacts differently.
People who are winning at working understand that politics are not
inherently good or bad. It's what's behind them that instills the fear or
creates the trust. How we serve our own politics at work is a direct result
of how we show up (in the deepest sense) as a person. Want to be winning at
working? Serve your politics with well-meaning intention.
© 2006 Nan S. Russell. All rights reserved.
Receive a copy of 21 Winning Career Tips (a free download) at
http://www.winningcareertips.com. Nan Russell has spent over twenty years
in management, most recently with QVC as a Vice President. She has held
leadership positions in Human Resource Development, Communication,
Marketing and line Management. Nan has a B.A. from Stanford and M.A. from
the University of Michigan. Currently working on her first book, Winning at
Working: 10 Lessons Shared, Nan is a columnist, writer and speaker. Visit