Politics = Many Blood-Sucking Parasites

My Wake-up Call!
I tried to avoid organizational politics earlier in my career. I have to admit sometimes I thought highly political people lacked integrity and were not trustworthy. But I also realized — as a corporate long-timer, consultant and executive coach — that my clients and I face the reality of corporate politics whether we like it or not.

Thanks to Rick Brandon, who led a workshop I attended several years ago, I received a wake-up call.

Not Playing Is Not an Option
“Under-estimated, passed over, topped out, sabotaged, didn’t see it coming, not getting credit, not able to sell key ideas, left out of key conversations … These are all tip-offs that politics are happening around you and probably to you,” say Rick Brandon and Marty Seldman, in their book Survival of the Savvy:  High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success.

If we want influence, impact, career growth, satisfaction and credibility, then we need to get off the side-lines and into the game – for our sake, our teams’ sake and our company’s sake. Just because some play the game differently than we do (and, yes, some cheat) that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t engage.

The Political Continuum 
Seldman and Brandon offer a very helpful framework … Think of a continuum that shows a range of political postures.

On the extreme left are the “under-political.” These people avoid politics. They either condemn politics as a bad thing or are clueless about it. They can be self-righteous and/or naïve. “My work and my team’s work speak for itself,” is their mantra. Often, they are confused and resentful when their great ideas are not embraced, when their stellar work is unnoticed, or when their performance and potential goes unappreciated.

This is where I was.

On the far right end of the continuum are the “overly political.” These are the people who give politics a bad name. (Brandon’s and Seldman’s caricature:  politics = many blood-sucking parasites.)

They may have short-term success – or even some long-term success – but at the expense of their integrity, others’ trust in them and maybe even the company’s success. They are masters at understanding how to influence key decision-makers to accomplish their goals and to get things done. But they often have hidden agendas and might use ruthless means to accomplish their end. “Whatever it takes,” is their mantra.

The Savvy Zone
To have maximum influence and impact with integrity, we want to operate within the middle section of the political continuum:  the “Savvy Zone.”

There is room here for people who influence based on the power of their ideas and the quality of their work (just left of center.) And there is room (just right of center) for people who influence by tuning into the key people needed to turn these ideas into reality. Clearly, both emphases are needed – high-quality ideas and deliverables and key people to sponsor and support their implementation.

Are You in the Zone?
If you are like most executives we have interviewed over the last few years, then improving your ability to influence effectively is one of your top professional development goals. If you’re not operating in the Savvy Zone, it’s time to get in the game.

Joe Baker is a Partner with PeopleResults and loves helping leaders improve their ability to influence and navigate politics with effectiveness and integrity.  For further practical suggestions on operating in the Savvy Zone, including a free self-assessment and expanded article, contact Joe at jbaker@www.people-results.com or on Twitter @JoeBakerJr.