Organizational Politics? No Thanks

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Reading time: 3 minutes

As an executive Coach, I see a lot of executives struggling with this thing called Organizational Politics. When discussing it, more than once a negative association comes up with the term. People are wondering not only if they are ‘suited’ but even more if they are ‘willing’ to be engaged in this seemingly unfair and unhealthy survival of the fittest.

On the other hand, don’t we all believe that successful executives need to be good politicians? You could say the ability to engage successfully in Organizational Politics is vital to your success as an executive. We all know every organization in itself is a political landscape. It is simply inevitable. Think about where you for yourself get your information, or whom you depend on. You need to know who to trust and how to navigate the unwritten rules. The higher you get on the corporate ladder, the more important dealing with these processes is. And even as a CEO you might be heavily pressurized.

The company hierarchy was intentionally built and adjusted to provide structures that allow leaders to set goals, define headcount, provide resources, generate change, etc. But even if the formal hierarchy and reporting structures are pretty straightforward and rather simple, the informal hierarchy can be very complex. Influence by individuals, originally set up to increase the success of an organization, can lead to achieving personal benefits at the expense of the organization. Discrediting colleagues, spreading rumours, covering up mistakes, claiming promising initiatives, etc. This is where leadership turns into manipulation. Needless to say this might be quite destructive when it comes to collaboration, sharing information, productivity and bottom line business results. And we aren’t purely talking top-down here. We all know how an unhealthy competition or gossiping on the floor can harm an entire organization.

But although Organizational Politics at their worst may lead to unfairness, distort the decision making process and ignore the interests of stakeholders (not to mention the inefficiency and waste of time), they can also enhance the flexibility of an organization. How? By promoting multiple perspectives. And by correcting the slowness of more formal methods of influence (Mintzberg, 1985). At their best, Organizational Politics facilitate change and ensure that decisions get implemented. And the good news is, you can learn how to deal with it. In a way that is consistent with your integrity. By understanding the culture, managing your internal relationships and by understanding the psychology of individuals, teams and organizations.

So my question to you as a leader: Do you inspire your people to engage politics in a positive way? How do you use your own political competence to improve bottom line results? And can you influence effectively without compromising your own integrity?

Questions or remarks? Feel free to comment!

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Sofie Varrewaere is the founder of BigFish4.me. After studying a Master in Psychological and Pedagogical Sciences, she ogled into the magical world of Recruitment, Selection and HR Services. Working for the world leader in HR, she has always been in an advisory role in relation to the larger goals of several multinational organizations. In 2013 she started her own company in International executive Coaching. Doing what she is good at, challenging others as well as herself.

Image courtesy of ratch0013 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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