When most people hear the phrase “organizational politics,” they react very negatively. They see politics in the workplace as forming clicks and another way to keep those who go against the status quo labeled as an outsider. People also think that it’s a toxic dynamic that allows manipulative behaviors for people to get what they want by stepping on their co-workers’ backs. But not every instance of workplace politicking is a selfish maneuver to win.
In his book, Building Great Teams: Charting the Path of Organizational Politics (Book Surge, 2007), U.S. Marine turned business professional and university instructor Damian D. “Skipper” Pitts takes you inside one of the greatest team building organizations in the world – the United States Marine Corps – to examine and discover the strategies that business leaders must be willing to learn, use and employ for building ordinary groups into extraordinary teams; leading the right team of commandos who understand what it takes to win on the business battlefield and defeat workplace politics using warfare as the key to experience a significant win. He defines workplace and office politics as “the path to smart growth…using the power to accelerate the careers of high potential future leaders and teams power in the workplace.” He implies that office politics are not always negative, but offer opportunities for greatness. And while workplace politics aren’t necessarily avoidable, people can learn to understand their purpose, find their voice and understand how-to strengthen and build the teams dynamics and interpersonal communications skills – all while managing responsibilities with tact, poise, and polish. The game of politics, when understood how-to use it as a strategic weapon, helps to successfully chart the path of personal and professional growth as the essential task to achieve personal mastery from the results of peak performance. Organizational politics also offers the hidden treasures that allow people to stand-out from the crowd. They learn to demonstrate their ability to navigate the maze of successful team building – a task that is viewed as positive organizational behavior from the individual that is perceived as an extraordinary leader. This is the type of person that others seek to follow and emulate for the greatness they wish to develop for themselves.
Workplace Politics vs. The Battlefield Engagement
Just as in any military engagement, in order to win one must know the rules better than his/her competitor to outsmart them on the battlefield. It also is beneficial to be a part of the right team for controlling the elements of the battlefront. However, some might claim the workplace and the military are very different in many ways. Thinking from this approach causes significant missteps in organizational politics. There are significant issues that are similar in the workplace and on a military battlefield. For starters, the one constant is “people.” Any time that people are involved in a scenario, decision-making must play a role in the ability to win. Using the strategies from the United States Marine Corps, people are responsible for making critical decisions from the highest ranking officer down to the lowest ranking enlisted – and the decision could mean life or death. Well, the same goes for the workplace.
People are responsible for making critical decisions that could mean that the organization acquires strategic assets (executive suite decisions) or that a customer is treated in a way that causes them to continue doing business with the organization. Both can be seen as life or death for the organization. As seen with Wachovia bank, a decision from the top level leadership was made to acquire Westgate Financial to boost their mortgage business. When the U.S. mortgage markets and industry imploded during the financial crisis, the organization was effected with incredible implications – it became the beginning of the end for one of the country’s largest banks and people lost careers and more. Similar to the likes of a military battlefield engagement and a series of wrong decisions made by leadership, loss of life was experienced.
But what most people fail to realize is that the workplace is too a battlefield. Business is warfare and those who understand how to navigate the politics always win. Consider the game of chess. Chess can be low-key and quiet, a friendly game between friends. Or it can be explosive and highly competitive, set amid a crowd of observers, where the ultimate winner reaps world-wide accolades. Consider the skill behind the game of chess. It requires well-planned strategy and a great deal of mental acuity and patience, not to mention years of practice to reach an elite status.
These are the same skills required by a great leader, one who has the ability to guide an organization and one who understands the world of workplace politics. On the other hand, while playing a game such as chess, there can only be a single winner where there often can be a more neutral outcome in the world of workplace politics. With the proper skills of negotiation and influence, savvy leadership might be able to create a win-win situation.
The Truth about Politics in the Workplace
Politics will always be part of an organization because people are people. The dynamic relationships of individuals who run a business enterprise play an important part in how the business operates: How the mission map, posture statements, vision, values and organizational culture is forged. And while the average Jane or Joe might feel like they are being run over by co-workers who manipulate the system, bully, gossip, backstab and brown nose to get what they want, there is more to workplace politics than those negative daily encounters. The quintessential aspect of organizational politics is the team. Building great teams’ hits at one of the most discussed topics in business media and the workplace: Organizational Behavior, transformational leadership, organizational renewal and inter-office politics. The day of the individual worker is over, as today’s business arena demands that workers possess the ability to effectively work as team units that consistently produce extraordinary outcomes from their performance. It is a scenario all top leaders and managers knows well: The organization, their people, and their systems all require efficient and effective processes to remain constant in its approach to move quickly toward new and innovative ways of reaching mission-critical objectives.
Good leaders are a thing of the past, as global economies now require more than good – they seek greatness and ordinary just does not fit the bill any longer. They now require the ordinary to be “extraordinary.” The new battlefield in the workplace requires the extraordinary leaders’ understanding of workplace politics and the accompanying landscape to be significant. They can no longer work in the old silos of the past that was developed by the silly political conflicts. No, these extraordinary leaders can no longer exhibit the behaviors that ultimately invite disaster. This is not to say that leaders of the past demonstrated the behaviors that put-up with negative politics that caused disastrous outcomes nor does it imply every good leader has found his/her way to the top of the heap by climbing over the bodies of crushed co-workers. It simply means that leadership understands workplace politics well enough to use them as “strategic weapons” to produce positive returns without the mud slinging and backsliding of unethical and immoral actions.
Understanding how-to chart the path of organizational politics means being able to maneuver using political warfare to enhance the organization’s ability to rise to the top of its industry, without leaving one of its warriors lying wounded on the battlefield. It means having a well crafted Battleplan, understanding the players, building positive alliances and coalition of forces, using the art of war as a significant warfighting strategy that all stakeholders understand and buy-in to for winning, and finally, developing a compelling case study for the associates of the organization to understand the comprehensive approach for integrating strategic human capital and team development initiatives into the fold.
Convert Uniqueness into Ultimate Power
The best leaders are the people that understand the nature of warfare in dealing with and overcoming workplace politics. These are the men and women who have a tone on the pulse of the workplace – internal and external – and know what it takes to remain on task “ethically” to lead others into greatness. Here are five important things to know about politically savvy leaders:
° They understand the critical importance of the team associates to be “LeaderShaped” into
GREATNESS. They understand the “what” and “how” in developing a GREAT team.
° They make decisive decisions for the benefit of the Future Picture
° They understand the “culture” in the system that the team must influence.
° They know what it take to strategically “execute” and win as a team.
° They know how-to use the “Six Political Signs of Business Leadership” to achieve professional mastery to the people and organization: 1. a clear “Vision” of issues. 2. Understand the “Value” drivers within the team. 3. “Behavioral” influence of leadership to the Future Picture. 4. “Strategy” Modeling (Enterprise Decision Making). 5. Strategic “Execution” (Governance). 6. “Duplication of Protocol” (learnable-teachable methods for future engagements).
Engaging the battlefield that is influenced by workplace politics, for many, may mean asserting their power, pushing and shoving like the elementary school bully until they get what they want. But that’s really just the toxic behavior and conduct that eliminates the possibilities for leadership and the organization they influence to win. One of the best ways to lose power is to overtly use it. Instead, the best leaders know that power comes from influence – and influence is subjective to behavior, character and the value system that drives the people responsible for charting the pathway.
In this great read, Pitts also outlines how, in most cases, team leaders never hit their goals – not because they lack talent within the associate ranks, but because they are naïve to the complexities of team dynamics. He outlines the strategic-execution methods that smart leaders understand and use to determine what type of team model best suits their specific environment, what key skills to look for (and which to avoid), and how to coax top performances from everyone starting from day one.
Author Robert Dilenschneider explains in his book, Power and Influence: The Rules Have Changed: True power and influence means accepting responsibility, taking the heat and keeping your word. So even if someone supports the supposition that leadership is just another way of playing political games, it doesn’t necessarily mean this is a bad thing. When properly played, workplace politics can lead to great achievements and outcomes. Pitts believes that extraordinary teams that are great engage politics well. They are LeaderShaped and driven by extraordinary people who make a distinctive impact – they deliver significant and superior performance over a long period of time. There are some striking characteristics of great teams who achieve sustained success within their mission across its life cycle. They experience an increased level of professional mastery in developing and executing as great teams do. These teams have gone through a process; a process that is forged in a furnace of professional development, transformational thinking, and strategic-execution.
Workplace politics, good or evil, are a very real part of the work environment. Whether people subscribe to the belief that leadership is just another way of engaging the political battlefield or not, it is important to keep in mind that as long as there are people working together as great teams do, there will be politics, but the outcomes will be far different from the results of the past. Great teams are the way to successfully engage the battlefield – greatness from the team is how to engage politics well and win it using fair tactics.