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If you expect to get ahead, you must understand and respect the power of organizational politics.
There is no escaping it. Fiercely competitive industries are rife with politics. Refusing to play organizational politics can be career suicide.
Politics – the business of high-stake schmoozing and winning people over – aren’t for everyone. But the measure of success – how far you go on the career scale – is directly correlated to your stomach for politics.
Even the not-for-profit sector is rife with politics. Many experts contend that it’s more political than the corporate arena because it operates under the guise of do-goodism. The myth is that these folks have supposedly transcended political intrigue because they’ve dedicated their lives to helping people rather than fattening their bank accounts. Not all, but many, not-for-profit professionals lust for power as aggressively as their corporate counterparts.
There is no such thing as a nonpolitical career. Even painters, composers and poets must wage political battles if they want to succeed. Art does not transcend politics. Politics are a part of life. Painters who hope to build a reputation must also suck up to the right financial people. They’re playing the same intense political games corporate executives play, but on a different field. They’re asking identical questions: Whom should I know in order to get my paintings out there? Who wields power? How do I reach them?
At their worst, organizational politics means favouritism, secrecy, resentment and deceit. At their best, they’re a game with their own special rules – very much like chess – requiring tact, diplomacy, intelligence, street smarts and cunning. The healthiest way to deal with corporate politics is to first acknowledge that they exist, and second, learn to cope with them in an ethical and professional manner. The tough part is finding a way to use politics to enhance your career so no one gets hurt in the process.
Regardless of endeavour, the power brokers of the world have learned to be masterful politicians. If you’re new to an organization, you ought to find out who they are. Who are the leaders and followers? Where are the conservative, liberal and radical forces? If you’re determined to move up the ladder, being identified with the wrong political faction is the equivalent of being sentenced to organizational purgatory.
Some companies are political hotbeds, with new senior management taking the helm every couple of years. No sooner is a CEO given the boot than a new management team marches in. But most established companies’ politics change little from year to year. Politics and corporate culture go hand in hand. When a manager says to a potential candidate, “We think you’re perfect and you’ll do just fine here,” he is saying that the candidate has a personality and attitude that will mesh with the company’s culture and politics.
Large and small companies have different attitudes and politics. Traditionally, many large firms are concerned with career paths, bureaucracy and politics. In contrast, most small companies have focused all their energy on beating their giant competitors to the marketplace with better products.
At the same time, small companies aren’t perfect either. As in large ones, you’ll encounter office politics, just on a smaller scale. The big difference is that small-company politics seldom slow down an organization. The bigger a company gets the more bureaucratic and political it becomes. It’s the price it pays for getting bigger.
When it comes to politics: Every company is unique.
Keep in mind that politics can get real nasty if used as a weapon to get ahead. Often, there are innocent victims of power-political games.
Best tactic. Keep an open mind, and try to take a neutral stance. Easier said than done, especially if moving up means taking a political position. In an ideal world, talent and hard work are all that’s needed to rapidly ascend the career ladder. In the real world, like it or not, moving up means aligning yourself with the organizational power brokers. The trick is to intuitively make smart political decisions so that you’re moving up and making friends in all the right places at the same time. That’s never easy to pull off.
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