a. the activities of the government, politicians, or political parties, or the study of these activities:
b. the activities of people who are trying to obtain an advantage within a group or organization: – Source: Cambridge Dictionaries Online
I don’t know whether it’s the negative energy coming out of Washington these days or the inherent nature of so much change in this world, but it seems I’ve overheard numerous discussions lately about “Politics”. Yes, I’ve had my share discussion around Politics of the governmental type, where in the ‘noble pursuit of public service’ upstanding men and women work together for the common good. To be fair, in today’s Politics there doesn’t appear to be anything “noble” or “for the common good” when it comes to our government these days. But I digress…
Politics clearly exist outside of the government and in every form of our lives – in work, at schools, in social clubs, in community organizations. And in the truest, purest sense Politics can be a good thing – where individuals with similar interests align together for appropriate representation within the larger group. If done correctly, an effective and respectful political structure affords the opportunity for differing interests to find the appropriate compromise(s) that are necessary for the group to succeed.
The most effective leaders understand the true art of politics, which includes a clear view of the broader objectives and a respect of others positions. They gather insight, constructively debate positions, find areas of compromise, and create the alignment that is needed for an organization to succeed. They carry what I call “influential authority” – the type gained from an inherent character, one of trust, honesty, integrity, and a willingness to consider another’s position or opinion.
But it’s not that type of “Politics” that I heard from peers of mine lamenting over these days. It’s the other form I’m referring to – the one which involves activities characterized by artful and often dishonest practices [to quote the other definition referenced in the Merriam-Webster dictionary]. You know the type I’m describing, where otherwise decent people within an organization work “behind the scenes” to plan and conspire against other members of the team for their own personal gains. Where organizations are torn apart by smaller factions that aim to derail the larger objective for their own separate agendas.
There is no quicker way – NONE WHATSOEVER – to destroy an organization than through internal politics of the malicious type. Culture is a delicate thing, built primarily on a shared interest and set of values. That doesn’t mean an organization has to agree on everything, but generally speaking there is a trust and respect of each other that transcends these different positions.
But when constructive politics gives way to the divisive type it can literally tear an organization apart. At the very least it consumes the team with internal activities that offer no value to the broader mission/charter. It shuts down open communication, giving way to ‘back room’ conversations. At its very worst it breeds mistrust, dishonesty, and eventually corruption.
What surprises me most is how gray that line can be and how quickly an individual or group can be consumed by the momentum of their own political activities. Simple “coffee room” talk can lead to critical yet unconstructive comments. Ego’s take over, and the value of the team is discarded to prop up that of the individual(s). Simple mistakes are taken out of context and leveraged against those making them. Organizational agendas are replaced by personal agendas. Bonds are made and deals are dealt. Once teammates, the “others” are stereotyped and vilified for their performance, positions, or beliefs (regardless of their validity). See what I mean?
As leaders, we carry a tremendous responsibility to rise above. We should not AND cannot allow such politics to take root within the teams we lead. We set the tone. We establish and reinforce the culture. And in my mind there is no more important role for a leader than maintaining the right culture – one of honesty, integrity, hard work, and mutual respect. And that simply cannot exist if an organization is allowed to degrade to political factions.
I’ll close with my own definition of “Politics”, one I borrowed from a speech I once heard at a business seminar (don’t remember who the source was), but that I’ve always kept to remind me of the dangers of being political:
The combination two root words:
a. Poly – meaning “many”, and
b. Ticks – “A blood sucking parasite”