09 January 2006

Office politics

“Office politics is nothing more than how people naturally jockey for place and position.” Whoever said this knew office politics.

Those of you who believe you don’t – or won’t – indulge in office politics, go take a hike. You can’t escape office politics. Office politics is here to stay – so, learn to handle it. Ignoring it could be the quickest way to kill your career.

What is office politics? It’s a strategy for winning with the boss, with others in the organisational hierarchy, with colleagues and subordinates. It’s about selling your ideas to people around you, and then, getting these people to push your ideas through to others who matter. It’s about inspiring and influencing people to build support for the outcome you want. It’s a personal strategy to get ahead in the corporate world.

Most leaders use office politics to get their ideas through. In every organisation, you’ll come across those – and not just leaders – who want to get things done rather than do other people in. They believe their idea will change the organisation for the better, and not hurt others while following the course they chart for themselves in pursuit of that idea. They are achievement-oriented and ambitious. True, they may relish the privileges of power. But the fact is, they take their organisation places, and people value them for their enterprise.

On the other hand, office politics can be underhanded and dirty. There are those who pursue their own agenda, regardless of what’s good for their colleagues or the organisation. They believe they have no other route but to resort to underhanded means to achieve what they are set out for. These people are critical and self-centred; usually untalented, incompetent and insecure. They go around hatching plots to destabilise the organisation, poisoning perfectly good people, destroying all feelings of trust. They don’t give a damn so long their personal objectives are met.

What gives rise to office politics? Sometimes, the simplest of things: Too many people vying for a limited number of promotions or management positions. Seeking favour from the boss. Lack of competence in handling responsibilities. Insecurity when faced with a challenge. Encounter with a smarter, more intelligent, achieving colleague or subordinate. Plain old jealousy because the other person is better looking, or has a higher salary, or a bigger car, or a better place to sit.

It has everything to do with looking good, getting ahead with what you’re doing or setting out to do. Unfortunately, everything at work – or in life – isn’t a win-win situation. You’re bound to rub somebody the wrong way, even unintentionally. If you’re successful, or popular, you automatically create opposition. Colleagues sabotage your mission and pull you down. Subordinates block new strategies or implementation of new systems. Bosses resent achieving subordinates who undermine their position. Faced with such situations, office politics can be an effective counter-measure.

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