One of my mentors (I’ll call him Les) has coached me through the years on the topic of organizational politics. Les insists that politics are not all bad, and that most of the good things that do happen in social settings (regardless of the kind of organization) are the result of effective political work, on the part of someone.
Les makes a lot of good points on this topic, but the one that has resonated most with me is this one: “Learn how to play the game, but understand that you don’t have to kiss the ring.”
In this proverb, Les makes the point that we must understand the political context, the power structures, the influence peddlers, who the good/bad guys are, and how to garner what we need (whether it be resources, support, allies, etc.). What we do NOT have to do, in fact should not do, is suspend our principles in order to effectively function in organizational life.
As I have tried to apply Les’s coaching in this regard over the years, I have learned the power of several strategies:
- KNOW what you believe
- Be transparent about your beliefs
- Resist being openly judgmental/critical of others
- SAY what you believe, the same way, in many settings
- ACT in accordance to what you believe
- Avoid pettiness like the plague
- Always work to raise others up, never to tear them down
Les's guidance has helped me navigate the treacherous waters of organizational politics, with more positive outcomes than negative. Of course, there have been a few "losses" along the way, but engaging in the political milieu in accordance with Les's advice at least helps me deal with those "losses" without the added burden of a guilty conscience.