Answering Tough Questions #15


Question 15:  What is the best way to handle the “politics” of a large organization?


First of all let’s talk about what politics is.  I think that when you mix ambition, drive, rewards, competitiveness, different agendas, strong and healthy egos, self-confidence issues, and courage, the stage is set for what we call politics.


Politicus, Latin (1551):  Politics is defined as, “shrewdness in managing, contriving, or dealing.”


The key word here is managingThe definition of managing is the act of controlling. When you have a lack of clarity around responsibility, authority, and accountability in an organization or in a particular role, then you have really set the stage for politics—especially if several people incorrectly think that something is their responsibility.  When they think this, everyone tries to control the outcome because several people are trying to manage the same thing in a different way . . . and even perhaps with a different outcome in mind . . . and their pride and reputation are at stake.


One of the best ways to calm down political discord is to work hard with everyone involved to have clarity around roles and responsibilities.  The better you can do that, the less “politics” will be involved.  This is why Chapter 4, Strategy 2 in my book Creating Magic is so important. It deals with organizational structure and clarity around responsibility, authority and accountability.


There is one really big downside to a lot of politics going on in a company.  It wastes time and moneyIt hurts the top line and the bottom line.  This is reason enough to focus on this issue, without even including the frustration one feels when having to deal with politics all day instead of doing what he or she is supposed to be doing. Just think about how ineffective and frustrating congress is to all of us.


Politics in the business world, in my mind, is mostly driven out of disorganization because of lack of clarity around responsibility, authority, and accountability—and most of all, from insecure people who have a need to be in control . . . to satisfy their egotistical, self-centered personality in order to get their way.  They think they are smarter than everyone else, which in itself is a huge weakness, especially if they are in highly responsible positions.


We all have different backgrounds, with different points of view, and different ways of working.  Some of us have more courage or less courage than others.  Some of us have more self-confidence or less self-confidence than others.  Some of us may have had some experiences in business that make us more cautious than others or less cautious than others.  That’s okay.  The important thing is to be aware of these behaviors in others and to help direct these individual to roles that fit these particular qualities.  We all have different talents, skills, and expertise—what you need to do is to rely on these when they are needed and respect what each individual brings to the table.  Respecting one another is critical to having fewer “political” problems.  That is why  Chapter 5, Strategy 3 in my book is so important.  “Make Your People Your Brand.”


Politics is a fact of life, and it is present in every organization both large and small.  It is present in business, in religion, in nonprofit organizations, and even in families.  Sometimes it shows up in how long it takes to make a decision . . . or in how some leaders abuse their authority and position . . . or in how they don’t always tell the whole truth quickly   . . . or in how they slant the facts . . . and on and on.

Actually sometimes politics makes things better, as the final solution might in fact be better than where we started . . . so I would not say that politics is always bad.  Compromise is not always a bad thing.


My advice is to do your job well.  Understand that you can blunt some of the political issues by being honest, straightforward, and candid—which over time will make you trusted.


Understand whom you can trust and whom you cannot trust.  Have your act together so that you have credibility with people at all levels.


The fact of the matter is that you have to learn to have strong relationships with people and to get to know the right people the best that you can.  When you do this, you will get your way more quickly.  Once again, respecting others plays a big part in making this work for you.


Do not, for sure, be a manipulator, as this will catch up with you and bite you when you least expect it.  Everyone in the organization knows who is a great performer and who is a slacker and manipulator.  The only person who does not know what people really think is the manipulator and the person who is playing the role of a leader—but is not a leader in anyone’s mind except his or her own mind.  Be genuine and authentic.  To be trusted, you must be trustworthy. Too Often the top people in an organization are the biggest manipulators.


Communicate openly and honestly with everyone.  Learn to admit your mistakes and move on.  Don’t make the same mistake twice, at least not with the same person.


Ask for advice.  This is a compliment to others, and you will get a better point of view on something before you make big decisions.


Don’t try to win every battle.  Let some things go so you can win the war.  Patience really is a virtue.  It’s better to take more time to get the right outcome.


Be self-aware of how you come off to others.  Ask for candid feedback from others on your style, and then go about trying to fix any problems.  People will admire and respect you for this.  No one likes perfect people.


Self-awareness is a big issue.  Some people have it . . . and they have far fewer political issues than people who don’t really understand themselves.


Some people blame everything in their lives on politics, while others seem to have few political problems and sail right through life being effective.  People whose main focus is themselves seem to have far more political problems than those who focus on others.  Poor performers seem to have more political problems than great performers.


Also don’t worry about things that don’t concern you.  Do your job and do it well.  Take care of your team.  Work on improving your relationships with people.  Then, if you have time to fix the rest of the organization, then fine.  You will be recognized as a great leader—people notice that and remember that!


Don’t blame your problems on politics when it is actually your own behavior and work practices that are causing the problem.  This is like blaming Interstate 4 for your being late to work every day.


This was a tricky question.  It is not an easy one to explain, but it is usually ourselves who create our own political problems.  Be tactful, use finesse . . . be honest . . . be authentic . . . don’t be a manipulator . . . do things for the right reasons . . . respect people . . . take care of your team . . . and in the end, you will not be called a politician, which in this day and age has a negative connotation, even though the word itself is not a negative word, or at least it wasn’t in 1551.  This word is mainly for government use, and perhaps we should just leave it over there in the government side of the world, where it is alive and well.


Good luck if you ever run for office, but right now I would advise you to wake up every morning and try to figure out how to build your constituency because the only reason that people support leaders is for what they have done for them or what they promise to do for them. Be careful what you promise or you might be ejected from your position….Lee

 PS:  I could have given you a much shorter answer to the question of “What is the best way to handle the ‘politics’ of a large organization?”  The short answer is:  “It is an Art.”  Have a good weekend everyone. I am off to Toronto and Chicago for a few days. Toronto and Chicago in February. Does this make any sense at all? It is 74 degrees in Orlando today.

  1. Lee – another great blog. Politics in business reminds me of my Navy days again. A lot of the younger Sailors would complain about the “politics” and so on. I simply told them, it’s just a game. You have to know how to play. Pretend you’re playing a live action video game. You need to figure out what your next step is and what accessories you may need to get there in one piece. Pretty soon you’ll have the game beat and you’ll get along so much better.

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