“Politics” could be defined as the art of weaving your way in the organisational context. Does politics exist in organizations ? The answer is a resounding “yes”. Do you need to indulge in politics to be successful in your career ? My answer would be a resounding “no” from my life experiences. While behavioural scientists may say that “politics” is not a dirty word and they may be right. According to them, politics is the art of using the ogranization’s human networks to your advantage.
I am not against “networking” and using your networks to get your things done as suggested by the social scientists. What I am against is to indulge in “political behaviour” in your day to day work. This means simply that you are indulging in “behind the back” gossip. This results in lack of trust in your team members and saps away the energy of the team. A lot of organisational energy is used in resolving conflicts and misunderstandings rather than building bonds.
How can one avoid politics as a leader ? This is a question many people leaders have asked me during the course of my career. My answer is simple. As a leader, one needs to clarify the “Dos & Don’ts” of behaviour expected in your team. Further, one needs to lead by example what you expect from others. For eg. I clearly encourage my team to raise any issue with anyone and sort it out face to face rather than talk behind the back. Gossip or talking behind one’s back may be the fountain head of organisational politics. This needs to be actively discouraged and even punished, if necessary.
On the other hand, if someone wants to build relationships so as to get things done, it is not politics in my definition. After all organizations are nothing but a network of relationships between people working in different functions. It is essential to build networks and relationships to get things done effectively. We need to do everything to enable our team members to network across the organisation and build these relationships.
It is only when a team member ends up misusing a relationship or a network to gossip, politics sets in. Politics in my view is like a wild fire in a dry summer forest. If not nipped in the bud, it can spread across the organisation and will be very difficult to put off. I have been asked many a time as to how one can avoid these webs of organisational politics. It is up to us. If we want to stay clear of it, we can clearly and unambiguously communicate the same to our team members and colleagues and it works.
I have also been asked if one can be successful in one’s career without being political. I believe so and have practised it all through my career. Being a HR professional, I have seen most successful people do not indulge in politics, as I have defined it. Further, this also ensures that your energy is chanelized to do more creative work in your domain. Teams work with high energy and enjoy their work without any fear or barriers.
In my view, “politics” in the organisational context is counter productive if not channelised to build networks and relationships. As a leader, it is up to us to define the rules of the game for our team and ensure nobody crosses the line. If many of our team members play foul, we not only lose the game but also create poor team spirit and negative energy within the team.
Let us define the rules of our game today and lead by example to ensure others follow it.
S Ramesh Shankar