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How to Tell If Office Politics Rule Your Business

Are you and your staff more concerned with gossip and power plays than building a strong business? Here are six symptoms of a toxic political culture.
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There's never been a worse time in history to look to politics to solve the problems of business.

With Congress's approval ratings in single digits, I doubt anyone genuinely believes that politicians have any answers to the challenges faced by growing businesses-- in fact, as I write this, the gridlock in US politics is currently deadening the prospect of growth worldwide.

So it's not surprising that up-by-their-bootstraps entrepreneurs everywhere--Republican and Democrat alike--are eschewing any expectation that politics will somehow give their business a boost, and are quietly getting on with running their growing companies, and increasingly ignoring, as best they can, what's happening in the political sphere.

And yet I see many of those same "a-plague-on-both-your-houses" entrepreneurs allowing politics to slowly strangle those very businesses.

How? By allowing their own internal politicking to reach a dangerous level, generating friction, frustration and dissension to such a level that their best people become exhausted and their businesses paralyzed.

This type of high-level, always-on politicking by senior leaders is the dark side of the Synergist leadership style. While genuine Synergists do all they can to align their team around the Enterprise Commitment, dark-side Synergists use other people to achieve their own goals.

Wondering if you or someone you know might be killing your business with their politicking? Here's a short checklist of the most common symptoms. How many do you recognize?

There is no real vision in the organization.
Politics and vision are essentially a zero-sum game. As soon as politics begins to play a part in any organization, vision begins to dilute (just look at the US government at present for an example).

By the time politicking has become a mainstream leadership 'tool', any sense of an overarching vision is largely lost.

You have a lot of one-on-one meetings.
Politics lives in the whispered aside, the confidential chat, the "don't tell anyone I told you this, but" confidence. When senior management is seen (or tries not to be seen) in cliques more often than they're seen together, something unhealthy is almost certainly going on.

You speak about others more than you speak to them.
In the political organization, every player knows (or, more correctly, thinks they know) a lot about all the others - but very little of that information comes from the other player directly. Instead of healthy one-on-one meetings, where people transparently share knowledge, ideas and opinions, one-on-ones in the political organization are mostly spent talking about other people not in the room, amassing 'useable intel'.

You spend a lot of time questioning people's motivation.
Directly because one-on-one meetings in politically-led organizations aren't honest and open, and people don't say what they really think, the respective players end up spending an inordinate amount of time and energy speculating on other people's motivations. What usually comes out in general conversation lies, hidden, only to be guessed at.

You address issues by manipulating people.
In 'normal' organizations, leaders address issues (we need a new product, for example, so let's research and launch a new product). In the politically-run organization, every issue becomes all about people. "Oh, we can't have her heading this up, she did 'X'." Or, "How do you think we can keep him from being involved in this - he's always resisting me when I try 'Y'."

And, of course, managing all these ever-changing allegiances sucks everyone else who works with you into the selfsame political spider's web.

Many people in the organization rarely hear from you.
Political organizations become insular and silo-ed. Think of the Nixon White House - an ever-decreasing cadre of faithful lieutenants who are 'in', and an ever-increasing outer circle who are either 'out' (not 'one of us'), or are viewed as, frankly, irrelevant. Those on the outside rarely hear from those on the inside, except to be given granular-level tasks to perform.

So, how'd you make out? Are you trapped in a politically-run organization? Worse still, are you the politicker?

If you're trapped in a politically-run organization, try (quietly) refusing to play the game:

- Find ways to avoid those "Can you come in here for a moment?" invitations, even if it's gratifying to feel like you're 'on the inside;

- Don't talk about others when they're not there, even if it makes you feel like you're "one of the boys (or girls)";

- Have open meetings, with transparent agendas and a risk-free environment where people can speak freely.

- Spend time with people who do the real work, not just those who have political clout.

If you're the politicker, then chances are you're constitutionally incapable of doing these things. Honestly, you need help. Find a strong mentor or coach and be open with them about your tendencies. Show them this article and say 'This is me'. Work out a plan of action to build behavioral change, and stick to it. Make yourself accountable by sharing your plan with your colleagues, and ask them to help you with its execution.

Better six to nine months of hard work on your part, than an otherwise great business killed by your incessant politicking, right? Good luck.

Discover how to keep politics out of your business. Download a free chapter from the author's book, "The Synergist: How to Lead Your Team to Predictable Success" which provides a comprehensive model for developing yourself or others as an exceptional, world class leader.

 

Last updated: Oct 15, 2013




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