Is Office Politics Holding You Back?


Early in my corporate career in global companies, I got some massive doses of “company politics” and learned how important they were to my career. I learned that if certain people weren’t willing to go to bat for me, my climb up to the next level (or anywhere, really) would be severely hampered. Working for smaller startups wasn’t terribly different, and there were fewer people to politic with, so in some ways learning how to play the game was even more important.

I’ll admit that many times I found myself thinking, “if people would just stop playing all the games and let me do my job I’d be successful!” It was frustrating.

But as my career progressed and I learned more about leadership and how organizations really worked, I came to appreciate “politics” in a different way.

People make things happen

Organizations are social creatures, made up of social ties between people. When people get together, they can make amazing things happen. That’s how companies and organizations succeed; that’s where their power comes from. So how can you lead a social unit successfully if you can’t be influential within the social culture?

You can’t. So if you want to lead and make things happen, you need to learn to “play” within the culture you hope to lead and effect. It’s part of how you gain credibility to be effective.

What if the game is rigged?

I’ve seen many women opt out of climbing the ladder because they “didn’t want to play politics,” and I totally respect that. My own shift into entrepreneurship was in part because I chose to play a different game.

But to me that’s the key. It’s all a game. Success at work is all about working with people leading and collaborating with people who don’t think like you. So when I hear women complain about the game of politics I listen for whether they’re allowing the politics to victimize them into being forced out or beaten down. If the game is rigged, you can let yourself lose, or you can put the ball down and walk off the field.

The other option is to make an inpowered choice to play a game you feel you have a chance of winning to accomplish something you feel is worth accomplishing.

The choice is yours.

What do you think of office politics? Is it ever constructive? How have you dealt with it successfully? What lessons have you learned from your mistakes.

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