“Can we also talk about office politics?” He asked. That caught my attention for two reasons. This was a Board reporting class. I expected some of the other requests raised such as basics of corporate governance. I however did not see the office politics topic coming up. The second reason was because I had a similar request the last week. Considering that was a management development class for high performers, the request was expected.

I have however seen a twist to this topic. A while back I would be the one triggering this discussion. Despite triggering it, it would not get much attention or trigger much debate. These days however it has become such a source of debate. It can easily take over a whole training session. I however realize that decision makers do not mention it when submitting their training requirements. They either think it does not matter or hope the young professional will figure it out along the way.

Truth be told every organization has some level of politics, including churches and non-governmental organizations. There is a healthy level of politics that can keep people on toes. One training participant noted, “If the departments were not so hard on each other we would probably not go out of our way to research and get hard evidence for our proposals and achievements.” There is however a toxic level of politics. A level that allows busy bodies to shine at the expense of quiet productive employees. As we say what you reward thrives and dictates the organization culture.

To trigger this discussion, I have opted to add it to my three requirements for career growth that I mention in leadership and management classes. These are

  • Technical skills – they get you hired at the lowest level and may get you promoted to a supervisory role.
  • Human Skills – They make you a better team leader and a better person to work with. It’s about your communication skills, conflict resolution skills, self-awareness, empathy…They are an asset in every level of your career.
  • Conceptual & Business Skills – This gets you to senior management. It’s your ability to see the big picture. To relate with the organization, the market and the industry. It is demonstrated in your business acumen and commercial awareness.

And now.

  • Ability and willingness to navigate politics – As mentioned every organization has some level of politics. As one of my training participants put it, it’s the small seemingly petty things that affect the big things. You however choose when and how to play depending on the level of politics being demonstrated.

Originally our perspective was, we do not go to work to play games; we go to work to get the work done. There is a lot of truth in this; that’s why I advocate for the first three items in career growth. However, with time reality dawns. As put in a Harvard business review; You can’t sit out of office politics, you can however choose when, where and how to play.

Office politics are about influence and relationships. In every decision awareness precedes action. So, before we talk about how to ethically play the politics, lets unveil the office politicians;

  1. The gossiper – The people who love to talk about others often in a nasty or underhanded way. This can lead to reputational damage.
  2. The bully – Workplace bullying is on the rise. The bullies act at the expense of others, they threaten other team members, interfere with their productivity or use social influence to cause division among employees.
  3. Social Climbers – They bond with authoritative figures and stakeholders and exploit those relationships in pursuit of power. They ignore those they perceive as beneath them.
  4. Adviser – They interpret data and relevant information and help authoritative figures make important decisions. A bad adviser will use that influence for exploitation or personal gain.
  5. Credit thief – They take advantage of others by stealing recognition or praise by passing someone’s work as their own.
  6. Saboteur – They use sabotage as a method for maintaining power within the workplace. They derail someone else project to make their own look better or use underhanded tactics to ensure they are in competition with no one.
  7. Lobbyist – They make organized attempts at persuading those in high positions of power. They always have an agenda and try to influence others in favor of it.

You do not need to be the ‘smart’ politically aware, game playing person but you need to be the wise, politically aware person who works with integrity. Let’s talk about that next week.


Photo by Edmond Dantès: https://www.pexels.com/photo/colleagues-brainstorming-at-the-office-8550500/

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