Many employees avoid politics at work, deny its existence, or reject its validity. Such people may perform excellently in advisory or highly technical positions; but they will never function well as senior managers or leaders.
Once the existence of politics is recognized and accepted, a person can take either a positive-constructive approach or a negative-destructive approach.
See some examples below of what seem to be misunderstandings about politics that are rife in the literature.
"...a subjective state in which organizational members perceive themselves or others as intentionally seeking selfish ends in an organizational context when such ends are opposed to those of others." Gandz & Murray, 1980, Academy of Management Journal.
WK Comment: Describing politics as «a subjective state» seems one-sided. Is politics about intentionally seeking selfish ends or not? Do people have their own agendas or not? Politics is an everyday observable reality with tangible effects, not just a feeling or inner state of mind.
WK Comment: The first is a statement of the person-organization duality, despite the phrase «without regard». Individuals at work may or may not have regard to the effects of what they do: it depends on the individual and the agenda. There is no recognition of the relevance of others, no mention of human needs, nor of the existence of a quasi-community.
"… self serving and manipulative behaviour of individuals and groups to promote their self interests at the expense of others, and sometimes even organizational goals as well. Organizational politics in a company manifests itself through struggle for resources, personal conflicts, competition for power and leadership and tactical influence executed by individuals and groups to attain power, building personal stature, controlling access to information, not revealing real intents, building coalitions &c."
WK Comment: This is more a description than a definition, but that means it recognizes struggles, tactics and other manoeuvres. Again, there is no relation to human needs or the informal community dimension. This article goes on to say:
"It is extremely important for leaders to understand, exploit and smother the political climate in the company to maximize the organizational outcome and satisfaction levels of the people."
But such statements fail to recognize that «smothering» something normal and unavoidable is likely to fail or to have unpleasant side-effects. Better advice would be «to understand and manage directly».
"Politics is a means of recognizing and, ultimately, reconciling competing interests within the organization. Political behaviour has been defined as the non-rational influence on decision making."
WK Comment: The opening sentence is more neutral and reasonable , but referring to politics as the «non-rational» element is unsatisfactory. It reflects the sort of thinking that says «people are the problem in organizations». In any case, decision-making is commonly affected by emotions or irrationality without that being driven «.
Originally posted: July 2009; Last updated: 12 June 2014.