Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Does Avoiding Office Politics Mean Abdicating Your Power and Responsibility?

Chapter 9: Paint Your Environment Part 16

When I first entered the corporate world, I was under the illusion that I was above politics. I did excellent work, and thought that data and passion for the customer would carry the day. I explained my philosophy to a new mentor over lunch, at a time when I was looking for answers to my crazy life.  I think my exact words ended with “I don’t play politics because I don’t need to.”

He laughed.  “Ok,” he said after taking a sip of coffee. “You may think that, but I assure you that others in the organization don’t think that way.”

Boy was he right.

If you’ve made it this far through the book, you probably realize that I’ve grown up quite a bit since then.  On some level, I knew about the people who I now call Foxes, manipulators only out for themselves.  But I failed to recognize that sometimes a Fox has power, and makes getting more power a priority.  (In this post, I share an example of A CEO firing someone for being manipulative.)  I, like many others, viewed politics as inherently manipulative and bad.

Eventually, I woke up to the reality that politics exists in every company. In good companies, politics revolves around competition between groups for resources, or differing views on business strategy.  In unhealthy companies, politics is about ego, empire building, and gets very very personal.

By not playing politics I was abdicating some of my power, and thus unable to  effectively do my job or set boundaries around my home life. I was severly under-gunned when I was attacked by a powerful Fox.

Politics is a tool, and like any tool can be used for good or ill.

As a prelude to the next post, I highly recommend this video. Harvard Business Review authors Kent Lineback and Linda Hill champion the why and how of using politics for good purposes. A bit dry buy very informative, especially the first few minutes.

What is your  experience with office politics?

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Comments

  1. Ronnie W says:

    I have been known to play the game myself – so I cannot speak or think poorly of others who fall victim to this very real game in the corporate world. I have been known to “dress” for the interview in my younger age- laughing alongside friends who accused me of getting the job because of the attire I chose. So be it. I played on the weakness of the hiring male manager. And landed the job. Much to his dismay (or pleasure) I just happend to also have the brains to back his decision. In a prior position, I was known to also eat lunch with the CFO every single day – because he liked it and it made him feel important. I got a free lunch and my department got anything I requested. Was I playing a game? I like to think of it as playing the system. I wasn’t hurting anyone. I wasn’t doing anything illegal or unethical. At yet another company, I used to tag along with the CEO on whatever stupid whim of a work-related outing he might come up with – “Let’s go – I want to go buy a gift for a customer and need your help!” – So off I would go! He thought his invitations made me feel important. I viewed them as a way to keep him away from the staff so they could actually be spared his insanity and achieve the results. He liked me because I didn’t talk too much and I didn’t waste his time. Those were his exact words to other staffers. As a result, I was continually promoted. This distanced me from some of the staff, but I was meeting results and making his life easier in his opinion. And at the end of the day – is that really so bad?

    Funny thing now though – I know exactly when I’m getting gamed by an employee – it’s hard to outfox a prior fox!

  2. You’ve touched a nerve here Greg! Office politics is what ultimately made me quit my job (thankfully, the end result of that was that I now live on a beautiful beach in the middle of nowhere and surf most days….but that’s only partly besides the point). You and I had very similar approaches to the cut-throat behavior of our coworkers. I, too, thought that my work spoke for itself and would overcome any finagling by my coworkers. I got a major wake up call when an entire experiment/research project I’d designed for my masters thesis was handed over to a coworker who knew how to play the game. I was crushed. Ultimately, I got “most” of the data back and got to be the primary author on the resulting, fairly cutting edge papers. Ironically, the person who’d undercut me made a change in her educational path and suddenly, when I thought I was almost done writing my thesis, I was handed HER data to incorporate into my thesis. Contrary to what you may think, I was not elated…I was CRUSHED. I was so close to finishing my thesis and suddenly I had a whole other area of research to investigate and incorporate (animal toxicology when I am a plant toxicologist). The boss’s motivation was clear – he just wanted the data crunched and to be published and he didn’t really care who he had to overburden to do it.

    Okay, clearly I’m not 100% over that experience…but my rambling serves to illustrate my version of office politics and my current life illustrates that you don’t have to stick it out. Sometimes it is the right decision to say, “Uncle” and go elsewhere. Maybe if you’re lucky you’ll end up content and in the tropics like me. :-)

    • Greg Marcus says:

      Hi Dawn, I can relate. It sucks to have to do someone else’s work almost as badly as having your work given away. Both experiences are somewhat dehumanizing, and I can understand why you wouldn’t feel valued. I don’t see it as saying uncle as much as saying F – you, I have better things to do. And oh, that surf sounds nice!

  3. Greg Marcus says:

    Hi Ronnie – thanks for sharing your story. It paints a real life picture of a perspective we rarely see.

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